FMLA: What You Need to Know
As an HR professional, I find that many people do not understand FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act). FMLA is important for people who are in the workforce and use employer-sponsored health insurance.
In short, FMLA protects your job (and insurance if you have insurance through work) should you need to take time off because of a serious medication condition, a family member has a serious medical condition, the birth and/or subsequent care of the employee's child or the placement and/or subsequent care of an adopted or foster child.1
This post will NOT go into social security disability, which is a federal program that provides assistance to people with disabilities.
What is FMLA?
FMLA stands for the Family Medical Leave Act. FMLA is a federal law that entitles employees of covered employers to have 12 weeks unpaid, job-protected, time off for serious medical reasons (for themselves or immediate family member) with the continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same condition as if the employee had not taken leave.1
Here are some things to know about FMLA:1
- FMLA can be taken as intermittent/reduced leave or in bulk.
- Employers may either use the calendar year or a rolling 12-month time period when calculating when a new FMLA period starts.
- FMLA does not accrue, meaning that if you do not use it for one year (regardless of how a company determines when that year is), an employee does NOT receive 24 weeks FMLA the following year.
Conditions and considerations
Not every employer, and thus employee, is covered under FMLA. For instance, to be covered under FMLA, a company must have had at least 50 employees who have worked 20 works in the current or previous year to be mandated to provide FMLA.
Plus, even if your employer is covered under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), there are other rules that employees must meet in order to qualify for such coverage such as having worked for a certain amount of time.1
Employees must apply for FMLA which will require submitting paperwork from a medical professional, so be advised if you have concerns about sharing medical information!
From the Department of Labor: 'An employee is not required to give the employer his or her medical records. The employer, however, does have a statutory right to request that an employee provide medical certification containing sufficient medical facts to establish that a serious health condition exists.'1 If you are afraid of disclosing your medical condition to your employer, some employers can have third parties process FMLA requests so your employer only knows if you have been approved or not.
Also, even if your employer's HR department approves and manages FMLA leaves themselves, companies are not allowed to discriminate on the basis of a medical condition. This includes hiring, firing, promoting, demoting, training, and job assignments, which all violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).2
If you feel like you are or might be at risk of being discriminated against because of your medical condition, talk to an employment law attorney.
More options might be available
From a professional standpoint, if you are considering taking a job and know you might need to take some time off at some point, it is helpful to know the basics of FMLA to ask your potential employer what benefits are offered.
Again, FMLA allows employees to take the time off while preserving their job and health insurance (should you get your insurance through an employer). For example, should you require a heart transplant, the selection committee will want to know that you will have medical insurance when needed.
Lastly, just because a company is not mandated to offer FMLA, they can still choose to offer their employees Medical Leaves of Absence (LOA). If you are already an employee, need to take time off, and are not eligible for FMLA, talk to your HR department about a medical leave of absence if you feel like the time off is required for your health, or the health of an immediate family, and/or child (biological, adopted, or foster child).
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