The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was authored by Senator Chris Dodd and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993. It is designed to acknowledge that employees have health concerns and other issues outside of work, and should be able to attend to those concerns without fear of losing their jobs. The law applies to all organizations with fifty or more employees and all government programs.
The FMLA guarantees qualified employees up to 12 weeks of medical leave per year (defined as a 12-month period beginning when the organization decides.) This time off does not need to be paid, but the employee does need to be guaranteed a job when they return to work. If the company is unable to keep the employee’s job unfilled for up to 12 weeks, they may offer the employee a different but equivalent job when he or she returns to work.
Qualified employees are those who have worked at least 1250 hours for the employer within the last twelve months. This means that part-time employees are generally not entitled to FMLA protection. In some states there are additional employment laws to protect part-time workers and others who may not be covered by the federal law. Other states, such as Texas, only enforce the federal law.
A person can take medical leave if they are experiencing and illness or injury that impairs their ability to do their job. An employee can also take medical leave if a family member is suffering from an ailment that requires the employee to take care of them. Adding a new child to the family, whether by birth or adoption/foster care, is also a valid reason to take time off from work. Women who have given birth are not the only ones entitled to time off to care for a newborn; fathers can also stay home for the first few months of their child’s life.
An employee does not need to take all 12 weeks offered at once. They can take multiple short periods of leave, or they can even work fewer hours per day for a limited amount of time. Some agencies require employees to use their vacation and sick leave before they can take medical leave.
If a person takes a temporary leave from work to serve the military, this is not taken from their FMLA time. Employees can only take a family or medical leave to care for members of their immediate family; a sick friend is not grounds for time off under the FMLA.