Federal law gives millions of employees the right to take leave when their baby is born or their spouse is sick. The Family Medical Leave Act doesn't require the leave to be paid leave, even if your employer is covered by the FMLA requirements. Some state governments provide family leave with pay, as do some employers. It might be worth asking for FMLA paid leave in your next pay negotiation.
Know the FMLA Requirements
FMLA applies to businesses who employ at least 50 workers for 20 weeks in the current or preceding calendar year. If your employer is covered, you're entitled to FMLA leave if you've worked there 12 months – not necessarily consecutively – and at least 1,250 hours during the year before you take leave.
You can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid FMLA leave a year. This can be a single chunk or broken into small bits. You can use the leave when you or your spouse have a child or adopt; if your spouse, child or parent needs care because of a serious health problem; or for unpaid sick leave because of your own health problems. The U.S. Department of Labor has the full details of the FMLA rules on its website.
You're normally entitled to your regular job and responsibilities when you return from family leave. If you're taking intermittent FMLA leave – you have to go in for regular treatments or examinations, say – your employer can shift you to a different job until things get back to normal.
If you're taking leave because you or a family member is sick, your employer can require you get a doctor to certify that it's legitimate. The FMLA forms are also on the department's website.
Some States Help
As of 2018, New York, New Jersey, California and Rhode Island offer paid FMLA. All four states run it through their disability programs. Five other states offer paid sick leave. The states with paid FMLA finance it through payroll taxes and administer it as part of their disability programs. You'll find any forms you need on the state's website.
Affording FMLA Leave
Even workers who are covered by FMLA may find 12 weeks of unpaid time off more than they can afford. Some employees would find even one week a strain. One option is to use any accrued paid leave – vacation, sick or both – for some of the FMLA period. Your employer can also require you to use some of your paid leave. You have to follow the company's normal procedure for requesting and scheduling paid time off.
Negotiating FMLA Paid Leave
Some companies offer paid parental or family leave, though it often isn't full pay. If you're job-hunting, it might be worth researching what potential employers offer on that front. If you like the company but not the family leave it offers, you can bring that up in salary and benefit negotiations. A lot depends on how in-demand you are and how desperate the employer is to fill the position. If the company really wants you, they may be willing to offer paid leave.
Fraser Sherman has written about every aspect of business: how to start one, how to keep one in the black, the best business structure, the details of financial statements. He's also run a couple of small businesses of his own. He lives in Durham NC with his awesome wife and two wonderful dogs. His website is frasersherman.com