The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a complex creature. Some states, including Connecticut, have a “baby” FMLA law of their own, which makes it even more complicated for employees and employers to understand their legal rights and obligations as to FMLA leave. This post addresses the basics of FMLA. In a future post, I will discuss the Connecticut Family and Medical Leave Act (CFMLA) and the differences between the two.

What does the FMLA do?
The FMLA provides eligible employees up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave a year, and it requires employers to continue to provide employees on FMLA leave with the same health insurance on the same basis that they would receive if they were working instead of taking leave. Employees are also entitled to return to the same or an equivalent job after the leave ends.

What employers does the FMLA apply to?
The FMLA applies to all public agencies, including local, state, and federal employers and local educational agencies (e.g., boards of education), and to private sector employers who employ 50 or more employees for at least 20 workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year.

What employees are eligible for FMLA leave?
To be eligible, employees must work for a covered employer (as described above) who employs at least 50 employees within 75 miles, and must have worked at least 1,250 hours in the previous 12 months prior to the start of the leave. The 1,250 hours include only those hours actually worked for the employer; they do not include vacation, sick leave, paid time off (PTO) or FMLA leave. Notably, the law allows an employee to elect, or the employer to require the employee, to use accrued paid vacation, sick or family leave during some or all of the FMLA leave.

When can eligible employees take FMLA leave?
Eligible employees can take FMLA leave for the following reasons: (1) birth of and bonding with a child; (2) placement of and bonding with a child for adoption or foster care; (3) to care for an immediate family member (spouse, child or parent – but not an “in-law”) with a serious medical condition; (4) to take medical leave when the employee is unable to work due to a serious medical condition; and (5) for qualifying exigencies arising out of the fact that the employee’s spouse, child or parent is an active duty servicemember (Note: the FMLA applies differently to servicemembers in several respects which are not discussed in the general information provided in this post).

What is a serious health condition?
A “serious health condition” is defined as an illness, injury, impairment or physical or mental condition that involves (1) inpatient care in a hospital, nursing home or residential medical care facility; or (2)continuing treatment, including outpatient treatment, by a health care provider. Examples of common serious health conditions are pregnancy (including prenatal medical appointments) and chronic conditions that cause occasional periods where the employee or a covered family member are incapacitated and require medical treatment.

Does the leave have to be taken all at once?
No. When medically necessary, employees can take FMLA leave intermittently (i.e., in separate blocks of time) or on a reduced leave schedule by reducing employees’ usual daily or weekly work schedule. In these cases, an employee has an obligation to work with his/her employer to schedule the leave so as not to disrupt unduly the employer’s operation, and the employer may transfer the employee temporarily to an alternative job with equivalent pay and benefits that accommodate recurring periods of leave better than the employee’s regular job.

Is there a limit on how many times an employee may take leave?
No. The only limitation is described above; that is, that a covered employer must grant an eligible employee a total of 12 weeks of unpaid leave for each 12-month period.

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