8 things every employee should know about FMLA

Many people have to temporarily leave work for a variety of reasons. This could be for a positive event, such as having a baby, or a not so great one, like taking care of a family member with a serious medical issue. The US government passed the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in 1993 to help alleviate aspects of being absent for medical and family-related reasons. The law puts protections in place so that employees don’t have to worry about losing their jobs or health insurance when they’re away for an extended period of time.  

There are a few key facts that everyone should know about the FMLA.

  • 1

    What is FMLA?
    The FMLA is designed to protect you when you have to take extended leave for medical and/or family-related reasons. This protection allows you to take 12 or 26 weeks of leave, depending on the reason, in any 12-month period. While you’re out, you won’t receive payment for the time off. However, if you have accumulated sick days, personal days, etc., your company must pay you for those days. You will not lose your health insurance coverage, but any portions of the insurance that you normally pay from your own pocket must still be paid. 

  • 2

    What type of leave is protected?
    This law is meant to protect your job while you take leave for, among other reasons, your own serious medical condition or the serious health condition of a parent, spouse, or child. In general, these would be defined as incapacitating conditions, chronic conditions, those requiring an overnight stay in a hospital or medical care facility, and childbirth. Men and women are also allowed to take maternity and paternity leave for bonding with your newborn baby. This must be taken within a year of the child’s birth, and taken as a continuous block unless your employer allows otherwise.

  • 3

    Can you take time off to help family?
    Yes. Employees can take FMLA leave to help a family member, but there are limitations. You can take protected time to help your children (including biological, adopted, in parentis, and legal wards), your spouse (common-law marriages are OK), and your parents. 

  • 4

    Do all companies offer FMLA coverage?
    Only companies with 50 or more employees must provide FMLA coverage. Note that if your employer does not have 50 employees within 75 miles of your workplace, they do not have to offer FMLA job protection. 

  • 5

    Are all employees covered?
    To be eligible for protected leave, you need to have worked for the employer for at least 12 months. This doesn’t have to be 12 months in a row, but if any of that time was put in more than seven years earlier, it won’t count. Secondly, you must have worked for the employer for at least 1,250 hours in the 12 months before you take leave – about 24 hours a week.  Some jobs that require shift work have different rules.

  • 6

    How do you notify your employer properly?
    You are required to notify your employer of planned leave at least 30 days ahead of the date you want the medical leave. If your job requests medical certification, you must get it from the doctor or health care provider who is treating you and give it to the employer within 15 calendar days. Your employer can request a second or even a third opinion, but those costs are at their expense.  If it’s an emergency, notify the employer as early as possible. 

  • 7

    What are the guarantees about holding my job?
    A key part of this process is that the employer has to notify you about your FMLA job protection, including when it starts and how long it extends, in writing. With limited exceptions, your employer must provide you (as long as you have done your part correctly and are within the confines of the 12-month limit) with your old job, or a very similar job – with the same skill sets. It must offer identical benefits, pay, the same schedule, and be at the same or nearby location. There can be no penalties for having taken the FMLA leave. 

  • 8

    Do I get paid during FMLA medical leave? 

    Overall, the FMLA helps keep your job and health coverage, but doesn’t cover income loss incurred by taking a medical leave (other than accrued paid time off). A handful of states do have specific laws regarding paid FMLA leave, so be sure to check for your state’s law. More information can be found here.


    If your state does not offer paid leave, you may be eligible for short-term disability insurance through your job, which may replace 40-50% of your usual paycheck. If you want to make sure you would continue to bring in an income similar to your current employment income, ask your human resource manager whether you can access more protection in the form of a Supplemental Disability Insurance policy. Other workplace insurance may be available to cover expenses incurred by cancer, critical illness, and hospitalization. Note that all insurance policies must be started before the medical incident arises.

To conclude, know what you’re covered for – and for how long – before you take any leave. For more information on the FMLA, visit