The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitles eligible workers of employers who are covered to job-secured, unpaid leave for defined medical and family reasons. As a small business employer, it is important to understand the leave act in-depth, including which employers are covered by the FMLA, the rules that apply when employees are on FMLA leave, and when employees are entitled and eligible to take FMLA leave.
At many workplaces, an employee taking up to 12 weeks off would likely face termination under normal circumstances. However, FMLA-covered employees who have a qualifying reason to go on leave must almost always be reinstated to their former pay grade and position. Also, they must be provided with the equivalent responsibilities and benefits upon returning from leave. Eligible employees cannot be harassed, demoted, fired, or otherwise punished for requesting or taking FMLA leave.
FMLA-covered employers are those with at least 50 employees working daily for at least 20 calendar workweeks in the present or previous calendar year. Public or private schools and public agencies are covered employers regardless of the number of employees.
FMLA Eligibility Requirements
When employees’ work requirements conflict with family responsibilities, they may need to take a leave from work to handle their medical and personal obligations. Employees may be eligible for FMLA if they have worked for at least 12 cumulative months for the same covered employer. When leave is scheduled to begin, FMLA eligibility is determined.
FMLA provides eligible employees with up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period with job reinstatement privileges. That means that as the employer, you must reinstate the employee to the identical or comparable position at the end of any FMLA leave. However, not every employee who works for a covered employee is eligible for FMLA leave. Only those who meet the qualifications are entitled to apply for and go on FMLA leave. Guidelines for determining eligibility include:
Many laws exist to protect workers’ civil rights, dignity, and safety. Of these, the FMLA leave law of 1993 is among the most comprehensive and frequently utilized.
The goal of FMLA is to offer a way for employees to balance both work and personal or medical needs without worrying about losing their jobs. An employee may apply for FMLA leave for any of the following reasons:
Although employees who meet these criteria are covered under the FMLA, there is a limited exception for essential employees. These key employees are those who satisfy all of the criteria and receive wages above 90 percent of their coworkers within a 75-mile range. The FMLA permits employers to waive reinstatement when key employees return from leave if reinstating them causes substantial damage to the employer’s finances.
Alternative FMLA Leave Options
Workers who are not eligible for FMLA leave but need time off for personal, medical, or family reasons should discuss other alternatives for leave with their employer. In some situations, companies may approve unpaid time off based on business needs at their discretion. Employees may use sick time or vacation days as an option if FMLA is not available, or short- or long-term disability if the company offers it.
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