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The Family Leave Act (“FMLA”) – What Is It?

Mother checking daughters temperatureThe Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave. Employees are also entitled to return to their same or an equivalent job at the end of their FMLA leave.

This article intends to shed some light about the following:

  • Which employers are covered by the FMLA

  • When employees are eligible and entitled to take FMLA leave

  • What rules apply when employees take FMLA leave

Eligible employees under FMLA are entitled to:

  • 12 workweeks of leave in a 12-month period for:

    • the birth of a child and to care for the newborn child within one year of birth

    • the placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care and to care for the newly placed child within one year of placement

    • to care for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition

    • a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job

    • any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent is a covered military member on “covered active duty”

  • 26 workweeks of leave during a single 12-month period to care for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness if the eligible employee is the service member’s spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin (military caregiver leave).

The FMLA applies to all:

  • public agencies, including local, State, and Federal employers, and local education agencies (schools)

  • private sector employers who employ 50 or more employees for at least 20 workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year – including joint employers and successors of covered employers.

The foregoing information is courtesy of the United States Department of Labor and their FAQ page:

The FMLA has served as the cornerstone of the Department of Labor’s efforts to promote work-life balance since President Clinton signed the legislation in 1993. For those who would argue that compliance with the FMLA is burdensome, at best, the best available evidence suggests that adopting flexible practices in the workplace potentially boosts productivity, improves morale, and benefits the economy.

The Family and Medical Leave Act codified a simple and fundamental principle: Workers should not have to choose between the job they need and the family members they love and who need their care. The significance of the FMLA is in its recognition that workers aren't just contributing to the success of a business, but away from their jobs they are contributing to the health and well-being of their families. The intent of the FMLA is to promote economic security of families and serve the national interest in preserving family integrity.

There will be those employers who view the impact of the FMLA requirements as economically burdensome and counter-productive to their business. In order to dissuade the naysayers from non-compliance and uncooperative conduct Section 105 of the FMLA and section 825.220 of the FMLA regulations prohibit the following actions:

  • An employer is prohibited from interfering with, restraining, or denying the exercise of, or the attempt to exercise, any FMLA right.

  • An employer is prohibited from discriminating or retaliating against an employee or prospective employee for having exercised or attempted to exercise any FMLA right.

  • An employer is prohibited from discharging or in any other way discriminating against any person, whether or not an employee, for opposing or complaining about any unlawful practice under the FMLA.

  • All persons, whether or not employers, are prohibited from discharging or in any other way discriminating against any person, whether or not an employee, because that person has —

    • Filed any charge, has instituted, or caused to be instituted, any proceeding under or related to the FMLA;

    • Given, or is about to give, any information in connection with an inquiry or proceeding relating to any right under the FMLA; or

    • Testified, or is about to testify, in any inquiry or proceeding relating to a right under the FMLA.

Examples of prohibited conduct include:

  • Refusing to authorize FMLA leave for an eligible employee,

  • Discouraging an employee from using FMLA leave,

  • Manipulating an employee’s work hours to avoid responsibilities under the FMLA,

  • Using an employee’s request for or use of FMLA leave as a negative factor in employment actions, such as hiring, promotions, or disciplinary actions, or,

  • Counting FMLA leave under “no fault” attendance policies.

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