The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was a groundbreaking piece of legislation when it first passed. It created federal protections for certain workers at businesses large enough to absorb these obligations.
Provided that someone has been with a company for long enough to qualify and that the business itself is large enough for the FMLA to apply to the situation, a worker can request an unpaid leave of absence to undergo medical treatment, recover from bringing a child into their family or to provide medical care for an immediate family member.
How much leave can a worker request?
The FMLA does not involve paid time off
If you have paid time off (PTO) benefits through your employer, they may have an internal policy requiring that you make use of those benefits before requesting unpaid leave. If the company does have such a policy, then you may qualify for several weeks of paid or partially paid leave before you need to apply for FMLA leave. Any paid time off will not count toward your maximum leave allowable under the FMLA.
Your reason for leave determines the length of leave possible
For many employees, the FMLA allows for 12 weeks of leave, including after childbirth or the placement of a foster child with the family. Workers could also have up to 12 weeks of time off if they need to take care of a spouse, parent or child undergoing medical care.
However, there is a scenario in which an employee could qualify for more unpaid leave. If their leave of absence is specifically to provide medical support for a loved one and that family member is an active-duty servicemember, then the unpaid leave available may expand to up to 26 weeks.
The limit is annual, not per request
It could be possible for someone to have a baby and have 12 weeks of leave. Then, shortly after they come back to work, they get into a car crash and break their leg. Unfortunately, if they already used all 12 weeks of their FMLA leave, they will not qualify for more regardless of how their circumstances change. Only after 12 months have passed will they qualify for additional unpaid leave.
Learning about the rules that apply to your unpaid FMLA leave rights will help you better balance your family responsibilities with your job.