The Family Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, mandates that employers give 12 weeks of leave for illness, the birth of a child, adoption or illness in the immediate family. Certain injuries or circumstances concerning a relative who is on active-duty military service may qualify for 26 weeks of leave. Employers may be liable for various penalties for violations of the act.

The Basics

There are two ways an employer can fail to comply with the basic provisions of the act. He can fire the employee who goes on leave, in which case the employee is eligible to reinstatement with back pay, lost benefits and other compensation denied. The employer may also threaten to fire a worker who requests leave or demote a worker in retaliation. In these instances, the employer may be liable for any costs the employee incurs as a result. Day-care expenses may be included in this calculation as well as nursing care required for a sick relative, if the employee would have performed those functions himself. State laws may also apply, and the act allows whichever law is more beneficial to the employee to prevail.


An employer does not have to pay an employee for leave that is taken. But employees can choose to draw down paid sick, vacation or personal days as part of the leave. Employers can also require that employees use this benefit.


An employer may also be liable for costs related to seeking reinstatement under the FMLA, meaning the company may be required to pay the employee's lawyer. According to the Department of Labor, "The FMLA also gives employees the right to file a complaint with the Wage and Hour Division, file a private lawsuit under the act (or cause a complaint or lawsuit to be filed), and testify or cooperate in other ways with an investigation or lawsuit without being fired or discriminated against in any other manner."


To be eligible for the FMLA, employees must "be employed by a covered employer and work at a work site within 75 miles of which that employer employs at least 50 people, have worked at least 12 months (which do not have to be consecutive) for the employer; and have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months immediately before the date FMLA leave begins." Certain highly compensated employees -- those in the top 10 percent of a company's payroll -- are exempt from the law.

Other Penalties

Employers must post a written notice of employee rights under the FMLA in a conspicuous place and near where other such notices are posted. Failure to do so can result in fines of about $100.