Planning Your Leave: An Employee's FMLA Checklist

Everything you need to know to take FMLA and make a smooth transition back to work.

By , J.D.

Are you planning to take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)? If so, you'll want to know what your rights and responsibilities are and how to schedule and manage your leave to avoid any unnecessary problems. Use this checklist to make sure you've covered all of your bases as you get ready to request and take time off.

This checklist assumes you are taking time off under the federal FMLA. Many states have their own family and medical leave laws, some of which offer more generous benefits, cover smaller employers, or apply to a broader range of situations. Find out what your state allows and requires by selecting it from the list at State Family and Medical Leave Laws.

1. Make sure you're covered under the FMLA.

Your employer must comply with the federal FMLA if it has at least 50 employees on its payroll. You are eligible for leave if you have worked for your employer for at least a year, and for at least 1,250 hours in the year before you want to start your leave. You must also work at a site where your employer has at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius. Your HR representative should be able to determine whether you and the company are covered by the FMLA.

2. Figure out if the reason for your leave is covered.

FMLA leave isn't available for every personal, medical, or caregiving need. Under the FMLA, you may take leave only for the following reasons:

  • to care for your own serious health condition
  • to care for a family member with a serious health condition
  • to bond with a new child, or
  • for certain military family needs.

(To learn more, see Family and Medical Leave FAQ; for more information on medical leave, see What Is a Serious Health Condition Under the FMLA?)

3. Give notice to your employer.

If you need leave for a foreseeable reason, such as childbirth or recovery from surgery that can be planned in advance, you must give your employer at least 30 days' notice. If your circumstances change (for example, you give birth early or health complications require you to move up your surgery date), you must give as much notice as is practicable.

If you need leave for an unforeseeable reason, such as a medical emergency or accident, you must give as much notice as is practicable. For example, if your spouse was in a car accident and requires immediate care, you should tell your employer as soon as possible that you need FMLA leave. Typically, this means the same day you learn of the need for leave or the following day, depending on the circumstances.

If you want to use accrued paid leave during your FMLA leave, you must follow your employer's usual notice requirements. For example, if your employer requires employees to schedule vacation one week in advance, and you have a sudden need for FMLA leave, you won't be eligible for paid leave for the first week of your FMLA leave. Once you have met the one-week scheduling requirement, you will be able to use your paid leave. (Note that this rule applies only to your employer's paid leave policies; you still have the right to take FMLA leave immediately, if you qualify.)

4. Work with your employer to minimize workplace disruption.

Under the FMLA, employees are obligated to make a reasonable effort to schedule foreseeable leave for planned medical treatment in a way that won't unduly disrupt the employer's operations. If you will be taking intermittent time off under the FMLA (leave a few hours or days at a time, rather than all at once) for a serious health condition or for military caregiver leave, you must work with your employer to come up with a schedule that meets your needs and avoids undue disruption at work. In other words, your employer may ask you to reschedule certain things or work around the company's legitimate requirements.

However, your health care provider must approve any changes. If rescheduling treatment would cause medical complications, for example, or you absolutely must take certain hours off to aid your recuperation, then your employer can't require you to make changes for its convenience.

5. Provide your employer with requested information.

Once you tell your employer of your need for time off, you may need to provide additional information. Employers are allowed to ask for more details if they are uncertain whether the FMLA applies. For example, if you say you will need three weeks off to help your mother, your employer might ask what type of help you are providing. If you are taking care of her following surgery, you are likely eligible for FMLA leave. If you are helping her move, you can't use the FMLA.

If you are using the FMLA for a serious health condition or for military family leave, your employer may request a medical certification: a written statement completed by you, a health care provider, or both, that provides some basic information about your need for leave. Once your employer makes this request, you have 15 calendar days to return the certification, unless you are unable to do so despite making diligent, good faith efforts. Your employer may also request a recertification in some circumstances. To learn more, see FMLA Forms and More: Employee Notice and Certification Requirements Under the FMLA.

6. Arrange for payments of your health insurance premiums.

The FMLA requires your employer to continue your group health coverage during your time off. The employer must continue to pay its usual share of the premium, as must you. However, FMLA leave is unpaid, meaning that there's no paycheck for your employer to withhold your insurance premiums from (except for the time that you're using paid time off).

Instead, your employer may ask you to write a check every payday for your share of the premium, pay the premium in advance, or make other arrangements that work for both of you (such as having a larger amount withheld from earlier paychecks to prepay the expense).

7. Find out if you need to provide a fitness-for-duty certification.

With limited exceptions, an employee returning from FMLA leave is entitled to reinstatement to the position the employee held before taking leave or to an equivalent position. However, employers may ask employees returning from medical leave for a fitness-for-duty certification: a signed statement from a health care provider that the employee is able to return to work. If your employer imposes this requirement, it must let you know at the time you request the leave. That way, you can present the certification form to your health care provider on your final visit before returning to work, to avoid any delay in reinstatement.

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