Sometimes life situations make it impossible for you to perform your job. If you have a baby or if a family member becomes ill, you could risk losing your job if you don't report to work in order to care for your loved one. The Family and Medical Leave Act, also know as FMLA, exists to protect employees who have a situation beyond their control that requires them to take extended leave time.
Employers with 50 or more employees must allow workers to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for certain reasons. Public and educational agencies are exempt from the minimum employee rule. Benefits include job protection that guarantees the same or equal position after returning from leave to care for the birth or adoption of a child, care for a family member with a medical condition or because of the employee's own serious health matter, or due to a family member's active duty in the United States National Guard or Reserves. Leave from employment is not required to be taken continuously, but can be in separate periods of time.
As of 2011, to be eligible to take leave under FMLA, you must have worked for a covered employee for a cumulative 12 months and for 1,250 hours during the immediate 12 months before leave starts. You need to give at least a 30-day notice or as much time as possible if an emergency situation arises. Employers have to approve leave time under the FMLA, and you must provide as much information as necessary for the employer to make the determination of whether the request qualifies.
You have the right to request leave under FMLA and to have it approved if the reason qualifies. Your employer has five business days to inform you of the decision. You may use any paid leave time that you have earned or your employer may require you to do so. You have the right to be placed back in your same job, or one of equal pay and level of duties, upon your return. If you have health insurance through your employer, it must be maintained while you are on leave.
Notices outlining an employee's rights under FMLA must be posted in prominent locations at all of your work sites. Also, your employer's policy should be placed in all employee work manuals. It's the employer's responsibility to ensure that all new and existing employees are aware of the benefits that FMLA offers. If your employer has a new employee orientation, the information about FMLA should be detailed in a presentation.
If you feel that you have been treated unfairly and your FMLA rights have been violated, you may file a complaint with your local Department of Labor (DOL) Wage and Hour Division. You also have a right to take legal action against your employer without the involvement of the DOL.
Carol Deeb has been an editor and writer since 1988. Her work has appeared in magazines, newspapers and online publications, as well as a book on education. Deeb is a real-estate investor and business owner with professional experience in human resources. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from San Diego State University.