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Most often, when your employees are sick or life takes its toll, taking paid time off is adequate; however, there are times when employees needs to take extensive time off for more serious issues. This is when the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) comes into play. FMLA took effect in 1993, in an effort to balance work and life with medical needs. FMLA includes many regulations and provisions, which can make it hard to understand. The following simple information can help you begin to understand FMLA.
Employees are entitled to take up to 12 weeks off of unpaid leave during a 12-month period if they have been working for the company for at least 12 months prior to requesting the leave, and if they have worked at least 1,250 hours over that period. Employees may take this leave for their own serious medical condition, or to take care of an immediate family member who has a serious health condition. According to federal law, immediate family members are parents, spouses, and children. Some states offer additional coverage for domestic partners, parent-in-laws, siblings, and grandparents. Additionally, FMLA may also be used for “birth and bonding:” extended parental leave for the birth or adoption, or bonding with a new foster child.
Not only must the employee be eligible for FMLA, but your company must be required to offer it as well. Your company must have at least 50 employees who work within 75 miles of the physical location to fall under the federal FMLA requirements. Many states have similar laws and regulations that overlap with the federal FMLA requirements, so prior to providing leave to employees it is important to find out what laws your state has.
If your company is required to provide FMLA and an employee requests leave, have them provide proof of the serious medical condition. Employers are not required by law to request proof, but are entitled to ask. The Department of Labor states that employers should request certification of illness at the time of FMLA request or within five business days. Once you have requested certification, the employee has 15 days to obtain proof. Employers may also contact health care providers for verification. It is important to carefully and accurately document the conditions of the leave including how long, any additional required documentation, and when the employee is expected to return.
Keep in mind that while a job is guaranteed upon return, it may not necessarily be the same job the employee had prior to taking FMLA. According to the Department of Labor website, "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."