Can I take FMLA leave a few days or hours at a time?

By , J.D. · UC Berkeley School of Law


I was recently diagnosed with cancer. My doctor told me that I'll need to have surgery, followed by a course of chemotherapy. She expects me to be out of commission for a couple of weeks following surgery. She wants me to agree to an eight-week course of chemo, with treatment once a week for a couple of hours.

I've been doing some research online, and people say that I can expect to feel pretty good through the first several rounds of chemo, but progressively worse after that. Some people said that they needed to take a day or two off work to recover from the weekly treatments, especially towards the end.

Can I take FMLA leave for this time off? I want to work as much as I can, so I don't want to just take the whole eight weeks off work.


You may take time off for your surgery and treatments, and you can take as much or as little time as you need to recover (up to the 12-week maximum provided by law). The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows employees to take intermittent leave for their own serious health problems, meaning that you can take a few hours or days off at a time.

The FMLA gives eligible employees the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year for a variety of reasons, including recuperation from their own serious health conditions. Your cancer diagnosis will certainly qualify as a serious health condition. So, as long as your employer is covered and you meet the eligibility requirements, you will be able to take FMLA leave. This means that your job will be protected while you are off work, and you will be able to continue your health insurance coverage.

The drafters of the FMLA recognized that some health conditions (or treatment for them) are sporadic or intermittent. That's why the FMLA gives employees the right to take a few hours or days of leave at a time, if necessary, for their own serious health conditions or to care for family members with serious health conditions. Under the FMLA, you can take leave in hourly increments or in increments as small as your employer tracks for timekeeping purposes, whichever is shorter.

Your employer has the right to request a medical certification, completed by you and your doctor, explaining your condition and an estimated treatment schedule, including the approximate time you will need to take off. As long as it is medically necessary for you to take time off intermittently, the FMLA gives you the right to do so.

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