Whether you need to take a leave of absence for your own medical condition, or if you need to stay home to take care of your spouse, parent, newborn or child with a serious medical condition, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) may be able to help.
One of the biggest benefits of living and working in the United States is the FMLA provision that can help take the stress out of a medical emergency, a medical condition or a maternity leave of absence by protecting your job until you can return to work.
During a time of stress, this provision alleviates the dilemma of being torn between going to work and taking care of yourself or being with the person who needs you the most. However, navigating the waters of FMLA can be difficult. That’s why Wellness Treatment Center of Englewood, CO, has put together this FAQ to help.
Who is eligible FMLA?
If your employer is covered by FMLA, you have worked for them for 12 months (doesn’t have to be consecutive), and you have worked for a total of 1,250 hours during that 12 month period, you may be eligible for a FMLA leave of absence.
Is my employer covered by FMLA?
A quick fact-check should tell you. Private employers with at least 50 employees working within a 75-mile radius are covered by FMLA, as are public agencies and school systems. Airline attendance and crews must be paid for at least 60% of their monthly guarantee and at least 504 work hours.
What kinds of situations are covered by FMLA?
You can take a leave of absence under FMLA for any serious health condition involving yourself, your spouse, your parent or your child. You can also take a leave of absence for a newborn baby, an adoption or a foster care placement.
Common situations include: a hospital stay, a condition that requires full-time care at home, an emergency medical situation, a chronic condition that causes occasional incapacitation, an adoption, or a pregnancy.
What do I get with my leave of absence?
FMLA can give you up to 12 weeks of time off from work with the guarantee of getting the same or a similar job back when you return. It is a form of job protection that should help you in the event of needing to decide between work and home during a serious medical situation. However, this time is an unpaid leave of absence.
Your employer will continue your insurance coverage during your time off. However, you will need to continue your normal contributions to any insurance premium during that time.
The 12 weeks can be intermittent or even partial days off, if you find you can work part of the time. You will need to discuss this arrangement with your employer.
If you are providing care for a seriously injured military service member, such as your spouse, you may be eligible for a 26-month leave.
What about my accrued vacation days or PTO?
Your paid time off (PTO), sick days or vacation days may be used during your leave of absence. To use these days as pay, you must submit the usual forms to your employer. Also, your employer has the right to use these days to pay you during your time off.
How do I notify my employer that I need a leave of absence?
If possible, give your employer at least 30 days’ notice prior to your time off. If you need immediate time off due to an emergency, tell your employer as soon as you know, or by the next business day.
Your employer has five days to notify you of whether or not you qualify for a leave of absence under the FMLA. If your time off is not covered by FMLA, this notice will explain why.
If your time off is approved, this notice will contain the details of your leave such as how many days off you will be given, if you will need to provide a physician’s note, any PTO you have the right to use, if any PTO will be used for your leave, and any insurance continuation details.
What are my confidentiality rights?
You have the right to keep your medical details confidential. However, you will need to provide enough information to your employer so they will know whether or not it is covered by FMLA. If you do not provide this basic information, your leave might not be covered by FMLA.
For example, you don’t have to tell your employer your specific diagnosis, but you could tell him or her that you are needing to take time off to address your mental health.
How do I apply for FMLA?
Applying for a leave of absence begins with good communication with your employer. There will be times when you will have to supply both your employer and FMLA company with documentation, so it is good to know what is required by both policies. If any certification is requested, you will have 15 calendar days to provide this. If there is any cost involved in obtaining the certification, you will be required to pay for it.
Be sure the following info is included in the document: the healthcare provider contact info; when the serious condition began; how long the condition is expected to last; appropriate medical facts such as how many doctor’s visits, symptoms, hospitalizations, treatments and referrals are needed; who is in need of care; and whether you need to take off a block of time or intermittent time off.
If there is anything missing from your documentation, you will have seven calendar days to get the additional information to your employer. If your employer feels that a second or even third opinion is needed, they can request it but they will have to pay for it.
What can I expect when I return from a leave of absence?
Upon returning to work, your employer must provide you with the same or nearly identical job as the one that you left. This includes substantially similar duties, responsibilities and status. It should also require the same general level of skill, effort and responsibility.
You should get identical pay, including any overtime and bonuses, and identical benefits including insurances, PTO and pension. You should be able to work the same general hours at the same or a nearby location.
Exceptions to the rule
If you exceed the allowed days off for your leave of absence, your employer is no longer required to return you to the position you took a leave from.
If you are defined as a “key employee,” or a salaried employee in the top 10% pay range of all the employees in a 75-mile radius of that worksite, you may not be guaranteed that you will be able to return to your position.
Teachers also have certain exceptions, especially toward the end of the school year.
For more information or to learn how to file a complaint, visit www.dol.gov/whd/fmla