Are part-time employees eligible for FMLA leave?

Question

I have worked part time in the finance department of a department store chain for 14 years. I recently learned that I will need to have hip-replacement surgery sometime in the next year or so. My doctor said I'll be out of work for at least eight weeks. I don't have much vacation or sick leave saved up, so I'm wondering if I have the right to take time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Does the law apply to employees who work part time?

Answer

It depends on how many hours you work and how large your employer is.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) covers only larger employers, those with at least 50 employees. And, it covers only employees who meet these three requirements:

  • You must have worked for your employer for at least a year.
  • You must work at a location that has at least 50 of your company's employees within a 75-mile radius.
  • You must have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months immediately before you take leave.

Since you've worked for your employer for 14 years, you meet the first requirement. As for the second requirement, you haven't provided any information on the size of your employer or how many employees work at or near your store. But, assuming you can meet that requirement too, the question is whether you have worked enough hours. The hours requirement -- 1,250 hours per year -- is the equivalent of working about 24 hours per week.

If your part-time schedule includes more than 24 hours per week, you will be covered by the law. But, if you haven't worked enough hours yet, don't give up. Your employer is required to tally up your hours as of the day your leave starts, not the day you request leave or give notice that you will need it. It sounds like you also have some leeway as to when to schedule your surgery. This means you can try to increase your hours now so you will meet the 1,250 hours requirement.

If your employer won't give you more hours or you otherwise can't meet the 1,250 hours requirement, you won't be able to take FMLA leave. However, some states have laws similar to the FMLA, and a few states are more generous to part-timers. Find out whether you qualify for any state protections by selecting your state from the list at State Family and Medical Leave Laws.

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