A primer for the Family and Medical Leave Act

In 1993, the federal government passed the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) with the goal of helping employees balance work life and the medical needs of their families. It provides for 12 weeks of unpaid leave for every 12 months employed and gives employees a chance to recover from surgery, care for a loved one or be there for the birth and first months of their baby's life.

There are some misconceptions about the FMLA, so let's clear up a few in this post:

  • You might have to take paid leave first. Some employers require you to use up your paid leave before taking any unpaid FMLA time. This isn't necessarily a bad thing; you'll have some income, and it doesn't count against your 12 weeks.
  • Not everyone is covered under the FMLA. Simply working doesn't automatically qualify you. You must have worked at your current job for 12 months and logged a minimum of 1,250 hours during that time.
  • Members of the military get more time. Soldiers and their families receive up to 26 weeks of leave.
  • You are entitled to come back to a job, but not necessarily the one you left. Your employer will have to find you a comparable job with comparable pay when you return.

If your employer fails to live up to the guidelines set forth in the FMLA, you may need to speak with an employment law attorney. He or she can look into your situation to see if there was a violation and may be able to help you fight for what's yours.

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