The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, commonly known as FMLA, is a federal law that offers covered employees job protection in the event that they need extended leave for their own health issues or to care for family members who are experiencing health problems.
FMLA also acts as parental leave, and is offered to employees following the birth of a child or the placement with an employee of a child in foster care. Twenty-six weeks may be offered to service members or military caregivers for medical reasons.
While FMLA is undoubtedly a boon for employees, it has pros and cons for employers who are required to offer FMLA leave.
FMLA provides certain employees, who work for covered employers, with up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave per year.
During that time, health benefits must be provided as they are when the employee is actively working. Covered employers include public agencies, including state, local and federal employers, and public school systems.
Additionally, private employers who have 50 or more employees for at least 20 work weeks per year (or in the preceding calendar year) must provide FMLA.
FMLA covers leave for serious illness, the birth of, and care for, a newborn child, the adoption of a child or placement of a foster child, and to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition.
For serious illness, the leave can be taken intermittently.
Additionally, employees who have an immediate family member who is a reservist, or National Guard member who has been called to active duty, may use FMLA.
Those who are caregivers for a member of the Armed Forces who has suffered serious injury or illness while on active duty, may take up to 26 weeks per 12 month period.
Pros for Employees
The benefits of FMLA for employees are obvious. The freedom to deal with a serious illness or to care for a family member reduces anxiety and stress about losing employment during the illness. The ability to retain health insurance during this time also prevents employees from losing coverage during a time when it is needed most.
Pros for Employers
FMLA is a valuable benefit to the recruitment of new employees, especially those who are planning to expand their families in the future. Furthermore, it improves the morale of existing employees by alleviating anxieties related to their own or family members' illnesses.
Cons for Employers
Although there is no requirement to pay employees for FMLA, reorganizing the workplace to accommodate an employee that is off work for an extended amount of time, or intermittently, can be expensive.
It is sometimes necessary to hire part-time or temporary employees to fill in for the employee who is taking FMLA. Even though benefits like health care may not be extended to these part-time or temp workers, worker's compensation and other required coverages nevertheless create expense.
Creating work schedules and rearranging duties to provide coverage while an employee takes FMLA can also be difficult, especially if other employees also take FMLA, have vacation time to take, or need to travel for the business.
Cons for Employees
One of the major cons of FMLA for eligible employees is that while you may be able to use paid leave or sick leave while on FMLA, the FMLA itself is unpaid.
This means that while employees may have eligibility for job-protected leave, that does not guarantee that they will be able to take time off if medical expenses are too burdensome to pay without continuing to work.
Additionally, the downside of FMLA can also be felt by those employees who are left behind. Taking on extra duties and extra shifts to make sure nothing is left undone during a co-workers leave of absence is often necessary. Scheduling needed time off for appointments or for vacation may be a challenge.
For more information and FAQs on the Family Medical Leave Act, go to the official website of the U.S. Department of Labor at dol.gov. Always check with Human Resources at your place of work to confirm your rights as an employee.