FMLA Celebrates 20th Anniversary But Many Workers Don't Know Their Rights

February 18, 2013 - The Family Medical Leave Act, most often known by the initials "FMLA," has been protecting the job security of workers facing a serious health concern of their own or the health condition of their spouse, parent or child for nearly 20 years, yet many workers know very little about it. You can download the employee book prepared by the Department of Labor if you click here or on the booklet at left.

Under this landmark law that was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on February 5, 1993 and went into effect six months later, employers are required to provide eligible workers unpaid time-off from their jobs for qualifying reasons and the FMLA prohibits employers from interfering with employee rights. Your employer must return you to either the same or an equivalent position with equivalent pay, benefits and working conditions so long as you return within 12 weeks.

Employees are eligible if they work for a public employer or for a private employer with 50 or more people on the payroll within a 75-mile radius. You must have been employed there for a total of 12 months and have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months preceding the first day or leave (not including vacation, medical leave or other time off).

The FMLA requires an employer to provide unpaid time off totaling 12-weeks per year for planned or unexpected absences for birth of a son or daughter or foster or adoption placement in your home. Time off must also be provided to care for your spouse, son, daughter, or parent with a serious health condition, or if you have a condition yourself that makes you unable to perform your job. You may be use saved sick time or vacation time along with your FMLA leave so you can continue to get paid. In fact, your employer may require you to use it. They are required to continue to provide you with health insurance during your leave and you will have to continue making your contributions to it.

There are various FMLA regulations that define what a "serious health condition" is, including a hospital stay of at least one night, an incapacity for more than three consecutive calendar days or a chronic or long-term disability.

FMLA time-off may be used intermittently, continuously, or as a reduced schedule under certain circumstances. You must give sufficient and timely notice to your employers of the leave. For a foreseeable absence you should give 30 days notice or notice as soon as practicable. For an unforeseeable absence, notice should be given as soon as practicable or within one or two business days.