The Family Medical Leave Act can be confusing for employees and employers alike. Even though FMLA legislation originally took effect in 2003, employers have not always implemented the rules consistently. Updates to the legislation and a new final rule were implemented in 2009, addressing many of the issues raised by employers and workers covered by the act. However, the FMLA is still a complex set of regulations to navigate.

The Basics of FMLA

Covered employees are eligible for an unpaid FMLA leave of up to 12 weeks in a 12-month period. To qualify, employees must have worked at least 1,250 regular hours in the 12 months prior to the request for leave or the start of the current 12 month leave period. Overtime does not count toward an employee's regular hours for purposes of FMLA eligibility. In addition, the employee must have worked for the employer for 12 months, although this does not need to have been consecutively.

Multiple Leaves

Employees may take leave for any combination of qualifying events. Such events include their own serious health condition or the serious health condition of a spouse, parent or child. Employees are also eligible for bonding leave with a newborn, adopted or fostered child. Employees called to active duty or who have a spouse, parent or child called to active duty may be eligible for "qualifying exigency leave" to deal with specific emergencies related to the call to duty. In addition, new regulations provide that an employee may take up to 26 weeks of leave to care for a covered service member who was injured in the line of duty. In all cases, the leave taken by employees may be on a continuous or intermittent basis.

Entitlement for Multiple Leaves

The total leave entitlement does not vary, no matter the number of cases. Employees do not receive a new 12-week allotment of leave for each qualifying event. Instead, they may use up to a total of 12 weeks of covered leave for all events. If one of the qualifying events is to provide care for a covered service member, the employee is entitled to a maximum of 26 weeks of total leave, provided that no more than 12 of those weeks are taken for a reason unrelated to service member care.

Tracking Leave

The regulations provide some flexibility in the way that employers determine the FMLA 12-month period. Some employees monitor the FMLA based on calendar year. An employee may take up to a maximum of 12 weeks in any calendar year for any FMLA qualifying events occurring during that year. Other employers may utilize a rolling 12-month calendar. In this approach, the 12-month period begins at the start of the first request for FMLA, and employees may take up to a maximum of 12 weeks for any additional qualifying incidents within 12 months of that date.