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The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was created in 1993 to make sure employers give employees the opportunity to care for themselves or a family member in circumstances vital to the family without fear of losing their jobs.

FMLA entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take up to 12 workweeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year for specified family and medical reasons, during which they’ll continue to benefit from group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave.

How do you know if you are eligible? If you work for a public agency, elementary school, or secondary school, or you work for an employer that has 50 or more employees, your employer is covered by the FMLA. As an employee, you are eligible for coverage if you:

  • Work for a covered employer
  • Have worked 1,250 hours during the 12-months prior to the start of your leave (equivalent to about 25 hours per week)
  • Work at a location where the employer has 50 or more employees within 75 miles, and
  • Have worked for the employer for 12-months total; though it need not be consecutive, it must (with certain exceptions) have taken place over the previous seven years.

Although the FMLA requires employers to provide unpaid leave, the law permits an employee to elect (or the employer to require employees) to use accrued paid vacation leave, paid sick, or family leave for some or all of the FMLA leave period. An employee must follow the employer’s normal leave rules in order to substitute paid leave. When paid leave is used for an FMLA-covered reason, that leave is FMLA-protected.

Qualifying conditions

A covered employer must grant an eligible employee up to a total of 12 workweeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in a 12 month period for one or more of the following reasons:

  • For the birth of a child
  • For the placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care
  • To care for an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent – but not a parent “in-law”) with a serious health condition
  • To take medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition, or
  • For qualifying exigencies arising out of the fact that the employee’s spouse, child, or parent is on covered active duty, or on call to covered active duty status as a member of the National Guard, Reserves, or Regular Armed Forces.

The FMLA also allows eligible employees to take up to 26 workweeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in a single 12-month period to care for a covered servicemember (a spouse, child, parent, or next-of-kin) with a serious injury or illness.

Types of leave

in more detail, the kinds of leave available under the FMLA are:

Maternity/paternity leave: Leave to bond with a newborn child, or for a newly-placed adopted or foster child, must conclude within 12 months after the birth or placement. The use of intermittent FMLA leave for these purposes is subject to each employer’s approval. If the newly-born or newly-placed child has a serious health condition, the employee has the right to take FMLA leave to care for the child intermittently, if medically necessary and if such leave is not subject to the 12-month limitation.

Mothers and fathers each have the same right to take FMLA leave to bond with a newborn child. A mother can also take FMLA leave for prenatal care, incapacity related to pregnancy, and for her own serious health condition following the birth of a child. A father can also use FMLA leave to care for his spouse who is incapacitated due to pregnancy or childbirth.

Intermittent/reduced leave schedule: When it is medically necessary, employees may take FMLA leave intermittently – taking leave in separate blocks of time for a single qualifying reason – or on a reduced leave schedule, reducing the employee’s usual weekly or daily work schedule. When leave is needed for planned medical treatment, the employee must make a reasonable effort to schedule treatment so as not to unduly disrupt the employer’s operation.

Leave to care for or bond with a newborn child or for a newly placed adopted or foster child may only be taken intermittently with the employer’s approval, and must conclude within 12 months after the birth or placement.

Serious health condition: The most common serious health conditions that qualify for FMLA leave are:

  • conditions requiring an overnight stay in a hospital or other medical care facility
  • conditions that incapacitate you or your family member (i.e., preventing work or school attendance) for more than three consecutive days and require ongoing medical treatment (either multiple appointments with a health care provider, or a single appointment and follow-up care such as prescription medication)
  • chronic conditions that cause occasional periods when you or your family member are incapacitated, and which require treatment by a health care provider at least twice a year, and
  • pregnancy, including prenatal medical appointments, incapacity due to morning sickness, and medically required bed rest

Under federal regulations, employees can continue to use FMLA leave for any period of incapacity or treatment due to a chronic and serious health condition, defined as a condition that requires “periodic visits” for treatment (at least twice a year), continues over an extended period of time, and may cause episodic rather than continuing periods of incapacity.

Adapted from this piece by the U.S. Department of Labor


Family and Medical Leave Act Employee Guide (U.S. Dept. of Labor)
Family and Medical Leave Act (U.S. Dept. of Labor)
FMLA Forms (U.S. Dept. of Labor)

The content on provides general information and does not constitute legal, tax, accounting, financial, or investment advice. You are encouraged to consult with competent legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment professionals based on your specific circumstances. We do not make any warranties as to accuracy or completeness of this information; do not endorse any third-party companies, products, or services described here; and take no liability for your use of this information.

© Georgia Center for Nonprofits 2019

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