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Family Medical Leave Act of 1993


Man holding forehead against newborn son
Jade Brookbank / Stone / Getty Images

The Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 provides leave and job protection for many American workers.

To qualify for benefits under the Act, a person’s employer must meet certain guidelines. Generally speaking, employers must be one of the following: a private employer with 50 or more employees, a government agency or a school. This is great for government workers. No matter what size agency or what level of government, workers are provided FMLA protection. A recreation coordinator in a small town has the same legal protection under this law as an astronaut at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Employees themselves must meet qualifications as well. They must have worked for their employers for at least a year and have put in 1,250 work hours within the last 12 months.

Employees may take up to 12 workweeks worth of time off within a calendar year of one of the following events:

  • birth or adoption of a child
  • a serious health condition of the employee or employee’s spouse, child or parent
  • certain events associated with military service

The Act defines a serious health condition as an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that involves inpatient care in a hospital, hospice, or residential medical care facility; or continuing treatment by a healthcare provider.

The 12 weeks of leave do not have to be taken all at once. Employees may spread the leave over the year as needed. For example, a parent may take three weeks off when a child is born and may use the remaining nine weeks for caring for that child or may save those nine weeks in case another qualifying event occurs. Leave does not have to be taken in weeklong chunks as in this example. Given the nature of qualifying events, leave is commonly taken in week segments.

During FMLA leave, the employee retains health insurance coverage he or she had before taking leave. However, the employer does not have to pay the employee for time off. Employers most often require employees to take accrued leave time in order to be paid during FMLA leave. The accrued leave and FMLA leave run concurrently.

Under the law, employees must give reasonable notice when they intend to take FMLA leave. Thirty days notice is the minimum warning time if the condition causing the employee to take FMLA leave is foreseeable.

Upon returning to work, the employee is entitled to the same or an equivalent job. Employers cannot discriminate against employees who exercise their legal right to FMLA leave and job protection. For instance, an employer could not demote an employee because that employee took FMLA leave.

The Act is enforced by the US Department of Labor.

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