There may come a time when you have to take leave from work to respond to a family event. The Family and Medical Leave Act, commonly called the FMLA, can make it possible for you to take unpaid leave in order to deal with an expected or unexpected family event. Your eligibility to take the leave depends on the type of business you work for, as not all employers are required to follow FMLA laws.

Business Criteria

Public schools and local, state, and federal government agencies must follow FMLA laws. In the private sector, businesses that employ 50 or more employees for at least 20 workweeks within the current calendar year or the preceding year are required to adhere to FMLA laws.

Employee Eligibility

Just as all businesses are not required to follow FMLA laws, not all employees are eligible to take FMLA leave. To be eligible to take the leave, employees must work for the same employer for 12 months or longer. During the 12-month period, employees must work at least 1,250 hours for the same employer.

Leave Coverage

FMLA laws allow eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period. Reasons employees can take the leave include to give birth to a child or to care for a newborn child. Employees can also take FMLA leave to place a child into foster care or for adoption. An employee who becomes seriously ill or injured can use the leave to recuperate. For example, an employee can take FMLA leave to attend physical therapy sessions. Should an employee’s spouse, child or parent have a serious health condition, the employee can also take FMLA leave to care for that family member. If an employee’s spouse, child or parent is seriously injured while serving in the military, the employee can take up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave to care for the person.

Job Protection

After employees return to work from FMLA leave, employers must allow them to return to the same job they had before they went out on the leave. If an employee's former job is no longer available, the employer must allow that employee to work a job that offers the same pay, conditions of employment, benefits, and additional terms that the previous job offered.

Employer Notice

Employers are also required to provide employees with FMLA law notices, approved by the Secretary of Labor, that explain employee and employer rights and responsibilities. Notices can be included in employee handbooks or other company documentation. Employees must receive a copy of the notice when they are hired. A fine of $110 may be assessed to employers who fail to provide employees with the notice.