The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) was an important and groundbreaking piece of legislation when lawmakers first passed it. It created a federally-protected right for employees to take unpaid leave in certain family or personal situations. Before the FMLA, workers were dependent on paid leave and the goodwill of their companies when emergencies arose.
The FMLA prevents employers from retaliating against workers who need to take time off for certain reasons and protects their right to return to the same job for the same compensation after their leave of absence.
The only issue with the FMLA is that it only applies to specific businesses and employees. How can you determine if you can take FMLA leave?
The company must be big enough
The company needs to be big enough to absorb the costs of a worker taking an extended leave of absence without undue hardship. Any state or federal employers, as well as schools, are subject to the FMLA. If you work for a private company, the business must have at least 50 employees on staff for 20 workweeks in the current or prior year for the law to apply. Smaller businesses will not need to accommodate workers who ask for unpaid leave.
Your work history must be long enough
If you have worked for at least 1,250 hours over the last 12 months, then you should theoretically qualify for FMLA leave. You typically need to have been with the company for at least a full year, and the 12 months of employment do not need to be consecutive, provided you accumulated those months of work within the last seven years.
If you meet the employment history requirements and the company is large enough, then you can potentially take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year if you have a medical issue, add a child to your family or need to support a family member with a health problem. Your employer should not deny you leave when it is necessary, nor should they punish you for taking leave under the FMLA when you need it.
Learning more about the employment laws that protect you will help you assert your rights when communicating with your employer.