Despite the fact that many have taken advantage of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in the past, others continue to overlook what it can do for them.

In short, this act is in place to provide up to 12 weeks of job protected, unpaid leave from employment. It is important to note that this is only available to eligible, covered employees for one of the following three reasons:

  • To take care of a serious health condition
  • To take care of an immediate family member – such as a spouse, child, or parent – who is suffering from a serious health condition
  • To give birth and care for a child

During FMLA leave, the law requires that the person’s group health insurance be maintained, despite the fact that he or she is not currently being paid.

What You Need to Know

There are several things you need to know about FMLA, including the following:

  • Not all employees are eligible. Just because you have a job does not mean you are protected under this act. To be eligible, you must have worked for the company for at least 12 months before requesting the leave.
  • Your employer has the right to request that you use paid leave first. If you have vacation days stashed away, for example, you may have to use these before FMLA kicks in. This differs from one employer to the next, so check with the HR department.
  • Your employer may request proof. For example, if you are seeking a leave due to a personal health problem, you may have to obtain certification from a health care professional. Even though it may be a sensitive issue, your employer has the right to request verification.
  • You will have a job when you come back, but it does not have to be the same one. Although most companies attempt to move you back into the same position, this is not always guaranteed. The Department of Labor notes the following: “an employee must be restored to the employee's original job, or to an equivalent job with equivalent pay, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment.”
  • The Family and Medical Leave Act is administered by the Employment Standards Administration's Wage and Hour Division within the U.S. Department of Labor.
  • If you have any questions or concerns regarding the Family and Medical Leave Act, contact your employer’s HR department.