The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires larger employers to give employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year, with benefits, to care for a new child, to care for a family member with a serious health condition, or to recuperate from their own serious health condition; up to 26 weeks of leave are available to those who need to care for a family member who was seriously injured on military duty. (For information on the FMLA, see Providing Family and Medical Leave.)
But the FMLA is not the only law that protects employees who need time off for caretaking responsibilities or for a serious health condition (and the FMLA does not apply to employers with fewer than 50 employees). Many states also have laws that allow employees to take time off for family and medical reasons (and many states' laws apply to smaller employers). Some of the state family and medical leave laws overlap with the FMLA; others don't. This potential for overlap can be confusing.
This article explains how the FMLA and other federal and state laws might intersect. For detailed information on what to do when more than one family and medical leave law applies (as well as step-by-step instructions for complying with the FMLA), see The Essential Guide to Family and Medical Leave, by Lisa Guerin and Deborah C. England.
State family and medical leave laws often overlap with the FMLA, as do state workers' comp laws and the federal Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Generally, when more than one employment law applies, the employee is entitled to every benefit available under every applicable law. In other words, you may not focus solely on the FMLA and ignore your company's obligations under your state's law. Instead, you must give the employee the benefit of whichever law is more generous or provides greater rights.
Workers' comp laws. State workers' compensation statutes, which provide benefits to employees who are injured on the job, might apply to an employee whose work injury is also a serious health condition under the FMLA.
Americans with Disabilities Act. Similarly, an employee who has a disability might be protected both by the ADA and the FMLA.
State laws that require employers to provide family and medical leave fall into a handful of categories:
Comprehensive family and medical leave laws. About a dozen states have laws that are quite similar to the FMLA, requiring employers to provide medical, caretaking, and/or parental leave. Typically, these laws overlap with the FMLA in many respects but also offer additional benefits. For example, some laws apply to smaller employers, cover more family members, or allow longer periods of leave.
Pregnancy disability leave laws. Some states require employers to provide time off for pregnancy disability: the length of time when a woman is temporarily disabled by pregnancy and childbirth. Typically, these laws don't provide for a set amount of time off per year or per pregnancy. Instead, they require employers to provide either a "reasonable" amount of leave or leave for the period of disability, often with a maximum time limit.
Adoption leave laws. A handful of states require employers to offer the same leave to adoptive parents as to biological parents. Generally, these laws don't require an employer to offer parental leave. However, employers that choose to offer some form of parental leave must make it equally available to adoptive parents.
Small necessities laws. Some states require employers to allow time off for various family needs, such as attending school functions, taking a child to routine dental or medical appointments, or helping with eldercare. These laws have come to be known as "small necessities" laws, to recognize needs that don't take up much time but are important to employees.
Domestic violence leave laws. Some states allow employees to take time off for issues relating to domestic violence, such as seeking a restraining order, getting medical care or counseling, or relocating to a safe environment.
If your company does business in a state that has its own leave law, you must figure out whether an employee's time off counts against his or her entitlement under the FMLA, state law, or both. You must also figure out which rules to follow when administering leave. Here are a few tips that will help:
For detailed information on how state leave laws interact with the FMLA, see The Essential Guide to Family and Medical Leave, by Lisa Guerin and Deborah C. England.