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The Family and Medical Leave Act

With extended time off, you can balance your obligations at home and at work

By and National Institutes of Health

At some point you may need to take unpaid time off from work to care for yourself, a parent or other family member. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) permits certain workers at larger companies to take up to 12 weeks off per year for this purpose. Here are the basics of the law.

FMLA is a labor law that allows an eligible employee to take an extended leave of absence from work due to illness or to care for a sick family member.

The leave guaranteed by the FMLA is unpaid and is available to those working for employers with 50 or more employees.

To be eligible, an employee must have worked for the company for at least 12 months, during which they must have worked 1,250 hours. The act also applies to all U.S. government employees and state employees.

Protections under FMLA

The law recognizes the needs of balancing family and work obligations and promises numerous protections to eligible employees. Some of these protections include:

  •           Twelve work weeks of leave per 12 months for various reasons such as:

                Caring for a newborn child
                Handling adoption or foster care placement issue
                Caring for a sick child, spouse, or parent
                Being physically unable to perform one's job

  •           Restoration to the same position upon return to work. If the same position is unavailable, the employer must provide the worker with a position that is substantially equal in pay, benefits, and responsibility.
  •           Protection of employee benefits even while on leave. An employee is entitled to all benefits that the employee was receiving before going on leave.

If you feel that your employer is in violation of the FMLA, you may file a complaint.


State laws

Eleven states and the District of Columbia have enacted statutes that are similar to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. They are: 

          New Jersey
          Rhode Island

Covered employers must comply with the federal or state provision that provides the greater benefit to their employees.

The Department of Labor does not enforce state family and medical leave laws, and states may not enforce the FMLA. Employees have no obligation to designate whether the leave they are taking is FMLA leave as opposed to leave under state law.

National Institutes of Health
By National Institutes of Health

The National Institutes of Health, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the nation's medical research agency — making important discoveries that improve health and save lives. NIH is the largest single source of financing for medical research in the world, seeking new ways to cure disease, alleviate suffering and prevent illness. By providing the evidence base for health decisions by individuals and their clinicians, NIH is empowering Americans to embrace healthy living through informed decision-making. NIH is made up of 27 institutes and centers, each with a specific research agenda, focusing on stages of life, like aging or child health, or particular diseases or body systems.

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