Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires private employers with 50 or more employees and all state, local, and federal government employers to give qualified employees up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave a year for specific reasons. To take the leave, you must have recently given birth or adopted a child, have a serious health condition, including pregnancy-related health conditions or incapacities, or be taking care of a family member with a serious health condition.

In these situations, any leave you take from work will be “job-protected,” which means that at the end of your leave, you must be allowed to return to your original job or be given another job with similar benefits, pay, and terms and conditions. The FMLA also requires that your employer continue to supply you with group health insurance benefits during your leave.

Does the FMLA Apply to All Employers?

The FMLA applies to all public agencies, including state, local, and federal employers, local education agencies (schools), and private-sector employers who employ 50 or more employees.

Who Is Eligible?

To be eligible for FMLA benefits, you must:

  • Work for an employer to whom the FMLA applies
  • Have been employed by the employer for at least 12 months (one year)
  • Have worked for at least 1,250 hours during the 12-month period right before the start of the leave
  • Be employed at a worksite where 50 or more employees are employed by the employer within 75 miles of that worksite

When Can You Use the FMLA to Take an Unpaid Leave?

The FMLA lets you take up to 12 work weeks (or three months) of unpaid, job-protected leave in a 12-month period for the following family and medical reasons:

  • You recently gave birth to a child and need to take care of your child.
  • You have a new adopted or foster child.
  • You need to care for a spouse, son, daughter, or parent with a serious health condition.
  • You have a serious health condition and need to take medical leave from work.
  • You have qualifying exigencies (things that must be taken care of urgently) because your spouse, son, daughter, or parent is on active duty or call to active duty status as a member of the National Guard or Reserves in support of a military operation.

If you are an eligible employee and your spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin is a current member of the Armed Forces (including a member of the National Guard or Reserves) and has a serious injury or illness, an employer to whom the FMLA applies must give you up to a total of 26 work weeks of unpaid leave during a “single 12-month period” to care for the service member.

If you and your spouse work for the same employer, you will be limited to a combined total of 12 work weeks of leave (or 26 work weeks if the leave includes care for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness).

If you recently gave birth to a child or have adopted or foster children living with you, you can take your leave only within the 12 months that immediately follow the birth of your child or the placement date of your adopted or foster child.

Sometimes it is possible to arrange to take leave in more than a single block of time as long as the leave is for one reason. For example, someone might arrange to take leave over time to have regular treatments for cancer. It may also be possible for you to continue working but use FMLA leave to reduce your usual weekly or daily work schedule.

Because FMLA leave is unpaid, you may wish to use any paid sick leave or vacation leave that you have available before or at the same time as your FMLA leave. If you are enrolled in a public or private short-term disability insurance plan, it may help replace some of the lost income during treatment.

Serious Health Condition

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) defines a serious health condition as an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that offers one or more of the following reasons for absence:

  • You are getting inpatient care. For example, you’ve been admitted for an overnight stay at a hospital, hospice, or residential medical-care facility.
  • You have a period of incapacity.
  • You get follow-up treatment connected with inpatient care.
Example

Leah goes to the emergency room for a severe cut on her hand. She is hospitalized for two days to get a course of antibiotics to make sure that the cut doesn’t get infected. She then is unable to perform her work duties as an administrative assistant because she can’t use her computer. She has two follow-up visits with her doctor to check how she is doing. She can apply to use FMLA leave for all of that time.

  • You get treatment for a condition that leaves you unable to work for longer than three consecutive days – whether they are work or nonwork days doesn’t matter – and
    • You get that treatment at least two times within a 30-day period or
    • That treatment is continuing, which means it is a prescription or you are doing physical therapy.
Example

Jackson hurts his knee while playing basketball. He’s in so much pain, he can’t go to his job that requires that he stand for hours at a time. He sees his doctor, who recommends he visit a physical therapist several times over the next two months. Jackson can request FMLA leave until he is recovered and can stand and do his job again.

  • You get continuing treatment for pregnancy or prenatal care.
Example

Greta finds out she is pregnant. She arranges to get regular prenatal care and can request FMLA leave for when she becomes unable to work.

  • You get continuing treatment for an ongoing, serious health condition that
    • Lasts for a long time
    • Requires visits to a doctor at least twice a year
    • May involve occasional periods of incapacity
Example

Uma has severe asthma. She sees a doctor every three months to see how she is doing, but she still occasionally has such severe shortness of breath that she can’t leave the house. She can apply to use FMLA leave for her periods of incapacity.

  • You get ongoing treatment for a period of incapacity that is permanent or long-term because of a condition that doesn’t have an effective treatment.
Example

Sean’s mother recently had a severe stroke and he wants to take some time off to help care for her. He can apply for FMLA leave because he is caring for a family member with a serious health condition.

  • You get multiple treatments for restorative surgery.
Example

Eli is in a car accident and breaks his jaw against the steering wheel. His time off to have his jaw reconstructed could be covered by FMLA.

  • You get treatment for a condition that would probably end up causing incapacity, which means, if not treated, the condition would make you unable to do the basics of your job or to perform other life activities for at least four consecutive days.
Example

Nicole has kidney damage related to her high blood pressure. She goes to a hemodialysis center every other day for dialysis treatments. If she did not, she would get very sick and have to be admitted to the hospital, so she would be unable to work. She can apply to have any time she is away from work covered as FMLA leave.

Continuation of Health Care Benefits

If you had group health insurance through your employer prior to taking FMLA leave, your employer must continue to give you health care coverage during your leave. If you pay part of the cost, you must continue to do so during your leave.

Returning to Your Job

When you return from your FMLA leave, you must be given your job back. If you are not given the same job, you must be given another one with the same pay and benefits. Taking FMLA leave should not cause you to lose any benefits that you earned before you took the leave. There are some exceptions to this rule for the highest paid “key” employees in an organization.

Giving Notice That You Need FMLA Leave

If you know ahead of time that you will need to use FMLA leave, you must tell your employer 30 days in advance. If you know you will need to take leave in less than 30 days, you should tell your employer right away. If you have to take leave for something you did not know about ahead of time, you should tell your employer as soon as possible. If possible, you should also try to follow your employer’s usual policy about asking for leave.

When you ask for FMLA leave, you need to give your employer enough information so your employer can find out if the FMLA applies to your leave request. Depending on the situation, such information may include that you are unable to come to work due to pregnancy, that you have been hospitalized overnight, or that you or your qualifying family member is getting continuing care from a health care provider.

Documenting Your Reason for Leave

When you ask for leave because you or your family member has a serious health condition, your employer may ask for certification of the condition from a health care provider. The employer may also seek a second opinion about the condition from another health care provider as long as the employer pays for it.

Protections Provided by the FMLA

The FMLA makes it unlawful for an employer to stop you from using the rights protected by the FMLA. It is also unlawful for an employer to fire you or discriminate against you (treat you unfairly or unequally) when you exercise your rights under the FMLA.

If you need more information about the FMLA or you think your employer may be denying you your rights, contact the Arizona Department of Labor. You can also contact the U.S. Department of Labor’s Phoenix District Office directly:

U.S. Department of Labor
Wage & Hour Division
230 N. First Avenue, Suite 402
Phoenix, AZ 85003-1725
Phone: 602-514-7100 or 1-866-487-9243
Fax: 602-640-5071

To learn more about FMLA policies, click here.