The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 is a federal law that states that any covered employer must give their employees 12 weeks of job-protected unpaid leave for their qualified medical and family reasons once per year.
This means that if you or your spouse, child, or parent comes down with a serious health condition, or if you need to care for a newborn baby, you will want to apply for FMLA ASAP. In doing so, your priority can become your family or yourself and work will wait for you to come back.
Here’s what you need to know about FMLA before it’s time to use it:
- Find out if your company is considered “covered”
What does the word “covered” mean in context of FMLA? If you work for a private company it’s considered covered if there are 50 or more employees within 75 miles of the office you work in. If you work for the local, state, or federal government or a public and private school, you’re covered regardless of how many employees there are.
If your company is not considered “covered,” you may be eligible under your state’s family and medical leave policy if it has one. Luckily, family-friendly workplace policies like paid leave are becoming increasingly popular. If your state or county offers paid leave, you could use this for an FMLA-covered reason, and the leave is FMLA-protected.
- Determine whether you are eligible
You are eligible for FMLA if you’ve been with your company for 12 months prior to your request. Those 12 months do not need to be consecutive, but you have to have worked them within seven years. On top of this requirement you need to have worked 1,250 hours within those 12 months.
- You won’t get “paid leave” with FMLA, but check your options
Unlike nearly every other developed nation in the world, the U.S. does not guarantee paid parental leave. That being said, your company may have leave policies that offer some pay or short-term disability you could take. After that, you may be able to use your paid time off (or you may need to use your PTO before you use FMLA-leave), but then the rest of the leave would be unpaid.
Thankfully, more and more companies have been improving their paid maternity leave policies, so see whether your company offers anything.
- How to use FMLA
Generally, you must give your employer at least 30-days’ notice before taking FMLA if you know you’ll be needing it (for instance, if you have a surgery scheduled). Of course, emergencies do happen -- so if your leave is unforeseeable, tell your employer as soon as you know you’ll need time off from work.
You do not need to take the 12 weeks consecutively, but if you don’t, keep detailed notes of how you use your time off and you’ll need to be clear with your employer about when you’re taking off and returning. The more transparent you are the better.
If you’re taking FMLA to care for a newborn or an adopted child, your leave must be taken within one year of their birth or arrival, and it must be taken in one continuous block of time.
- If you work with your spouse, you must share your leave
If you and your spouse work for the same company, you both can’t take 12 weeks each. You either take all the 12 weeks yourself and your spouse will take none, or you divide the 12 weeks between the two of you.
Now that you’re informed, don’t stop here. Schedule a meeting with your HR manager to learn about your company’s leave policy. Get informed and feel empowered knowing how you’ll be covered when you’ll need it most.
Liz McGrory is a certified professional coach supporting working moms make audacious choices about their work-life balance. She's a speaker, author, the Working Mom Expert on About.com and a working mom coach at The Maven Clinic.
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