The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 enables employees to unpaid take time off from work for acceptable medical reasons. The law prevents employees from having to choose between their jobs and caring for family members.

Employer Requirements

Private-sector employers with more than 50 employees must abide by the FMLA. They must provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period for an acceptable reason. Employers must maintain the employee's group health insurance coverage as if they were still working. At the end of the leave, the employer must restore the employee to a similar job to what he had before, with the same pay and benefits.

Reasons for Leave

An employee may take leave if ill or unable to perform her job duties due to a medical condition. She may also take leave to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition. The birth of a child qualifies an employee for leave within the first year after the child is born, and the same applies to adoption, or placement for adoption or foster care of a child within the first year.

Intermittent Leave

You must take all of the leave at once for the birth or placement of a child, unless the child is born with a serious health condition, or a parent has a serious health condition related to pregnancy or childbirth. You may take intermittent leave for other medical conditions, including partial days. In this case, your employer may transfer you to another job with similar responsibilities and pay to better suit your schedule and the employer's staffing needs.

Problems With Family Medical Leave

Family medical leave can be costly for employers. According to a study by the Employment Policy Foundation, a Washington, DC-based research group, the FMLA cost employers over $21 billion in 2004, mostly from lost productivity and replacement labor costs, as well as continued benefits. The same study estimates that 15 percent of all workers took advantage of the provisions of the FMLA. In half the cases, employees gave less than a day's notice that they intended to take leave permitted by the FMLA. Most of the FMLA costs incurred by employers is due to these short-term absences.