Family and Medical Leave FAQ

Learn who can take FMLA, for what reasons, and for how long.

What is the Family and Medical Leave Act?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that gives eligible employees the right to take time off for a variety of reasons, including:

  • to bond with a newborn or newly adopted child
  • to care for a family member with a serious health condition
  • to recover from the employee’s own serious health condition
  • to take care of certain practical matters arising from a family member’s call to active military duty, or
  • to care for a family member who was seriously injured while on active military duty.

Do all employers have to offer FMLA leave?

No. Only larger employers are covered by the FMLA. A company is covered if it employed 50 or more employees on each working day during 20 or more weeks in the current or preceding calendar year. The 20 weeks don’t have to be consecutive. Independent contractors don’t count toward the total, but all employees do, including full-time employees, part-time employees, employee who are on leave (as long as they are expected to return to work), and employees who work for both your company and another company (called “joint employees”) such as temps who work for your employer and for a temporary staffing agency.

Who can take FMLA leave?

To take FMLA leave, you must meet all three of the following requirements:

  • You must work at a worksite with at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius.
  • You must have worked for your employer for at least 12 months, although they need not be consecutive.
  • You must have worked at least 1,250 hours in the 12 months immediately preceding the date your leave will begin.

What types of leave are covered by the FMLA?

The FMLA covers time off only for specified reasons relating to health and caregiving for you and certain family members. You may use FMLA leave for the following reasons:

  • to recover from your own serious health condition or to care for a close family member with a serious health condition (to find out what qualifies as such a condition, see What Is a Serious Health Condition Under the FMLA?)
  • to bond with a new child, whether by birth, adoption, foster placement, or the like
  • to handle certain urgent matters arising from a family member’s call to active military duty, or
  • to care for a family member who was seriously injured or fell seriously ill while on active military duty. (See Military Family Leave for Employees to learn more about these last two types of leave.)

Is FMLA leave paid?

No. FMLA leave is unpaid. However, you may use your accrued paid leave during your FMLA leave, as long as you meet the requirements of your employer’s policy. For example, if your employer requires employees to give two weeks’ notice before using vacation time, and you have to take FMLA leave suddenly to care for a seriously ill spouse, you would not be eligible to use paid vacation time until you had given two weeks’ notice. However, you would still be entitled to take unpaid FMLA leave for those first two weeks off.

How much FMLA leave can I take?

It depends on why you are taking time off. For serious health conditions, to bond with a new child, or to handle urgent matters relating to a family member’s call to active military duty, employees may take up to 12 weeks of leave in a 12-month period. To care for a family member who was seriously injured or fell seriously ill while on active military duty, employees may take up to 26 weeks of leave in a 12-month period.

Do I have to give notice in advance if I need FMLA leave?

It depends on why you need time off. For foreseeable leave, such as leave to have a baby or for surgery that is scheduled well ahead of time, you must give 30 days’ notice or as much notice as is practicable under the circumstances. For leave that is not foreseeable, you must give notice as soon as practicable, typically the same day or the next day after you learn you will need leave. If, for example, your spouse is in a car accident or you suddenly learn that you will be receiving a foster child in a few days, you should notify your employer in short order after you find out you need time off. Your employer may ask you to provide a medical certification, if you are taking leave for a serious health condition. For more information on these notice and paperwork requirements, see FMLA Forms and More: Employee Notice and Certification Requirements Under the FMLA.

What are my rights while on FMLA leave?

Your employer must continue your group health insurance coverage while you’re on FMLA leave, on the same payment terms as when you were working. For example, if your employer usually pays the full premium for your health insurance, it must continue to do so while you are on leave. And, you are entitled to reinstatement to your position once your leave is over. So, even if your employer has to hire someone to do your job while you are out, you are entitled to return to the same or an equivalent position when your leave is up, unless an exception applies (see below).

Does my employer always have to reinstate me at the end of my leave?

Not necessarily. Although you have the right to be reinstated to the same or an equivalent position after your FMLA leave is through, there are a handful of exceptions. For example, you are not entitled to reinstatement if your position was eliminated during your leave and you would have lost it had you not take leave. You are also not entitled to reinstatement if you are designated as a “key employee” (one of the highest-paid 10% on your employer’s payroll with 75 miles) and reinstating you would cause substantial and grievous economic injury to your employer. For more information on the right to reinstatement, see Reinstatement Under the FMLA: Returning to Work After Your Leave.

If I’m not covered by the FMLA, do I have any right to take time off?

Many states have their own family and medical leave laws, and some apply to smaller employers or cover more situations than the federal FMLA. To find out your state’s rules, select it from the list at State Family and Medical Leave Laws.

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