According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the following states have their own FMLA statutes which supplement the federal law: 

California 
Connecticut
Hawaii 
Maine 
Minnesota 
New Jersey 
Oregon 
Rhode Island 
Vermont 
Washington
Wisconsin 
District of Columbia

This article summarizes important federal FMLA requirements and provides information about how some state laws differ. However, it's important to note that employment law is fluid, and many states added protections during the COVID-19 epidemic. Even if your state isn't listed here, consider consulting a labor attorney or looking up employment laws in your state for more specific information.

What protections does FMLA provide?

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (also known as the Act) gives eligible employees the right to take up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave a year if they suffer a serious injury or illness, or to care for a spouse, child, or parent, or for adoption or the birth of a child. The Act requires the employer to maintain group health benefits during leave as if the employee continued to work. Workers are also entitled to return to their same or an equivalent job at the end of their leave. Military families get certain additional rights and can take up to 26 weeks of leave to care for a covered servicemember or deal with a "qualifying exigency," like a sudden overseas deployment.

State FMLA regulations tend to provide added protection. For example, California requires up to 6 weeks of paid leave in certain care situations; Minnesota provides up to 10 days of bereavement leave if a military relative was killed on active duty.1

What companies are covered?

The federal law applies to all but the smallest companies, including:

  • all private sector employers who employ 50 or more employees for at least 20 workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year – including joint employers and successors of covered employers; and
  • all public agencies, including local, state, and federal employers, and local schools.

State FMLA rules often apply to a broader range of smaller companies. For example, the law in Oregon applies to employers with just 25 workers, as opposed to 50 under federal law. Vermont has an even lower threshold for certain kinds of protection: employers with just ten or more workers must provide leave for a new or adopted child. 1  

Which employees are eligible to take protected leave?

To qualify for leave under the federal law, an individual must:

  • work for a covered employer;
  • have worked 1,250 hours during the 12 months before the start of leave (the "Hours of Service" requirement); 
  • work at a location where the employer has 50 or more workers within 75 miles; and
  • have worked for the employer for 12 months. 

Again, state laws are often more lenient in this regard. For example, in New Jersey, employees are only required to have worked 1,000 hours in the previous year; in Washington, an employee only needs 680 hours of service.1

What leave situations are covered?

Under the federal law, a total of up to 12 workweeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in a 12 month period must be granted for one or more of the following reasons:

  • the birth of a son or daughter, and to bond with the newborn child;
  • the placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care, and to bond with that child;
  • to care for an immediate family member (wife, husband, child, or parent – but not a parent "in-law") with a serious health condition;
  • to take medical leave when the individual is unable to work because of a serious health condition; or
  • for qualifying exigencies arising out of the fact that the employee's spouse, son, daughter, or parent is on or called to covered active duty status as a member of the National Guard, Reserves, or Regular Armed Forces.

State leave laws tend to have similar rules regarding the types of leave situations covered. However, some states also add protections for shorter leaves not related to birth or a serious health condition. For example, Massachusetts (which isn't included in the Department of labor's list of FMLA states) has a related law called the Small Necessities Leave Act that provides up to 24 hours of leave per year to go to children's educational activities or routine medical appointments.1 At least ten other states have similar protections for these kinds of shorter leave.

What are the notice requirements for employers?

Under the federal FMLA statute, covered employers have four basic kinds of notice (i.e., communication) obligations:

  1. General Notice Every covered employer must have a conspicuous notice posted at all times – specifically, the FMLA poster, which can be downloaded here. It explains the FMLA's benefits and provisions and tells workers how to file complaints of violations. These rules should also be in an employee handbook or other benefits communications and/or given to each new hire. Employers that don't meet the posting requirement may be subject to civil fines.
  2. An Eligibility Notice When an employee requests leave, this notice must be given within five days. Its purpose is simply to let an employee know if they are eligible to take FMLA-protected leave. 
  3. A Rights and Responsibilities Notice Employers have to provide this notice within five days of an employee's request, just like the Eligibility Notice. Its purpose is to ensure the employee's FMLA rights and obligations are clearly understood and let them know if they need to provide certification of the need for FMLA leave and/or if certification of fitness for duty will be required at the end of the leave.
  4. A Designation Notice This fourth notice formally designates whether or not the FMLA leave request is approved.

Employees also have notice obligations: generally speaking, they need to provide "certification" – proof of the health condition other reason (such as military deployment) for taking leave if the company requests it. If the employee fails to do so, protected leave may be denied. In addition, if fitness-for-duty certification is asked for upon return from a serious medical condition, the employee must provide that as well. However, workers do not have to provide medical records to their companies; typically, all that's needed is a letter or form from a health care provider.

State notice requirements vary somewhat, but employers and employees generally have the same kinds of notice and certification obligations. 

Resources to help companies better manage FMLA leave and other types of absence

Workforce management software and platforms

Several leave management software platforms are available to help facilitate leave requests without paper forms, allow HR to track leave balances and approve requests, and even help keep track of employee availability, compliance, and other tasks relating to the leave management process.

Third-party administration

Using third parties to oversee absence management can help alleviate the administrative burden on your HR team, reduce paperwork, and help ensure consistent and objective employee treatment, which is key to compliance under the Act. And since most FMLA leaves are related to an employee's health issues, outsourcing these leaves, Short Term Disability (STD), and other items to the same external resource can help maximize the success of your leave management system. If your company needs help with the demands of FMLA and other employee leave management issues, consider learning more about Guardian AbsenceWorks. It's a resource that can help simplify administration and give employers more time to focus on core business needs.

Take the first step by assessing your company's current efforts

The Guardian Absence Management ScorecardSM can help you see how effective your leave management system measures up to other companies. It will also provide customized policy and process suggestions that can help your organization drive better results. 

Frequently asked questions about FMLA laws

What conditions qualify for FMLA leave?

Typical sick leave situations don't qualify for protection. Under the federal Act, a covered company must grant FMLA leave to an eligible employee in these situations:

  • the birth of a son or daughter, and to bond with the newborn infant;
  • the placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care, and to bond with them;
  • to care for an immediate family member (husband, wife, child, or parent – but not a parent "in-law") with a serious health condition;
  • to take medical leave when the employee is cannot work because of a serious health condition; or
  • for qualifying exigencies arising out of the fact that the employee's spouse, son, daughter, or parent is on or called to covered active duty status as a member of the National Guard, Reserves, or Regular Armed Forces.

Can an employer deny FMLA?

Yes, there are several scenarios in which medical or family leave under the FMLA should not be granted. State laws can and do differ, but reasons to deny a request under the federal law include but are not limited to:

  • The employer is not covered by the Act, for example, because the company has less than 50 workers.
  • The worker does not meet the Act's eligibility requirements, for example, because they do not meet the 1,250 "Hours of Service" threshold.
  • The request is not for a qualified reason, for example, because a medical condition is not defined as a Serious Health Condition under the Act.
  • The worker doesn't provide "complete and sufficient" certification, such as documents from a medical provider stating that they have a Serious Health Condition.

When can you use FMLA?

To qualify for leave under the federal Act, you must work for a covered employer; have worked 1,250 hours during the 12 month period before the start of leave; work at a location where the employer has 50 or more employees within 75 miles, and have worked for the employer for 12 months.

Who determines FMLA eligibility?

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act is administered and enforced by the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor. The rules for determining who is eligible to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Act are published on their website and in The Employer's Guide to The Family and Medical Leave Act. State FMLA rules are determined by the appropriate authorities in each state.

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Disclaimer

Unless otherwise noted, all information is  The Employer's Guide to The Family and Medical Leave Act from the U.S. Department of Labor, and/or the DOL's FMLA Frequently Asked Questions https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/fmla/faq

1https://www.ncsl.org/research/labor-and-employment/state-family-and-medical-leave-laws.aspx

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2021-128266  20231031