HomeDefinitionsCareer DictionaryFamily and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)


The term Family and Medical Leave Act refers to a law that allows eligible employees to take unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons. If an individual is granted leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, employers must allow the employee to return to their job, or a job that provides equivalent benefits and pay.


Also referred to as FMLA, the Family Medical Leave Act provides extensive protections of eligible employees that need to be absent from work when attending to specific family and medical problems. Employers that have fifty or more employees in twenty or more workweeks; local, state and federal agencies; as well as public and private elementary schools, are considered covered employers.

The information summarized below should be considered high-level guidance. FMLA is a federal program, and many states provide additional protections. It is critical that an employee consults with their plan administrator to verify their eligibility for leave.

Employee Eligibility

Generally, covered employers (as defined above) will only grant leave to eligible employees. Under FMLA, an eligible employee includes anyone that works for a covered employer for at least twelve months, has at least 1,250 hours of service with the employer over the last twelve months, and works in a location that has fifty or more employees within 75 miles.

Entitlement to Leave

Eligible employees are permitted to take up to twelve workweeks of leave in a twelve month period for any of the following reasons:

  • To attend to the birth of a child, adoption, or placement of a foster care child with the eligible employee.
  • To provide care for a parent, spouse, son, or daughter with a serious medical condition.
  • The eligible employee has a serious medical condition that does not allow them to perform their essential job functions.
  • Qualifying emergencies that arise when a parent, spouse, son, or daughter is called to active military duty status.

Employers must continue health insurance coverage for any employee taking FMLA leave. The terms and conditions of this coverage must also remain the same (as if the employee never went on leave).

Employer Notice

When requesting leave under FMLA, employees should follow their employer’s standard and customary processes, which will provide the employer with a reasonable amount of time to determine if FMLA applies to their request. Generally, this means thirty days advance notice if the event is known and foreseeable, or as practicable as possible.

When an employee request FMLA leave to attend to a serious medical condition, employers are within their rights to require certification from a health care provider. Employers may also ask the employee to seek a second and third medical opinion, paid for by the employer, as well as a periodic recertification of the condition.

Returning to Work

When an employee returns from FMLA leave they must be placed back into their original job, or a job of equivalent pay and benefits, and their employer cannot change the terms and conditions of employment. FMLA leave cannot be counted against the employee under the company’s attendance policy.

Finally, the law prohibits employers from interfering with, or denying, any rights the employee has under the FMLA. Employers are also prohibited from discharging or discriminating against any employee involved in a FMLA proceeding.

Related Terms

Americans with Disabilities Act, Employee Retirement Income Security Act, Equal Employment Opportunity, USERRA, Occupational Safety and Health Act, whistleblower, workers’ compensation