Highlights of the Family and Medical Leave Act

Guidelines for Practice Success | Managing Pregnancy | Business Operations

According to the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division’s Fact Sheet #28: The Family and Medical Leave Act (PDF), eligible employees of covered employers may take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons.

The FMLA applies to workplaces with a minimum of 50 employees and ensures that employees on any medical leave, including maternity leave, have the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave and be able to return to the same job or one that is similar to the one they had before beginning the leave. Be aware that a lack of knowledge of the law’s requirements, or failure to comply with the rules, has the potential to lead to an employee filing a complaint against the practice.

Covered Employers

The Act only applies to "covered employers" who are defined as fulfilling one of these criteria:

  • Are private-sector employers with 50 or more employees in 20 or more workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year, including a joint employer or successor in interest to a covered employer.
  • Are public agency, including a local, state, or Federal government agency, regardless of the number of employees it employs.
  • Are public or private elementary or secondary school, regardless of the number of employees it employs.

Covered employers are required to:

  • Post a notice explaining rights and responsibilities under the FMLA or risk a civil money penalty for willful failure to post the notice.
  • Include information about the FMLA in their employee handbooks or provide information to new employees upon hire.
  • Provide any employee requesting leave, or one whom they have reason to believe may request leave, with a notice concerning his or her eligibility for FMLA leave and information regarding his or her rights and responsibilities under the FMLA.
  • Notify employees whether leave is designated as FMLA leave and the amount of leave that will be deducted from the employee’s FMLA entitlement.
  • Treat pregnant women and those who have undergone childbirth the same for all employment related purposes as other employees in the practice.
  • Allow pregnant women to continue to work as long as they are able to adequately perform their job.
  • Continue group health insurance coverage for an employee on FMLA leave under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave.
  • Ensure that health insurance provided by the practice covers expenses incurred for pregnancy related needs.
  • Restore the employee to his or her original job or to an equivalent job with equivalent pay, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment upon his/her return from leave.

Covered employers have the right to:

  • Require the employee to provide certification from a health care provider that supports the request for the leave.
  • Offer employees the option of using either all, a portion of, or none of their regular leave benefits during the leave period, which may be as long as 12 weeks.

Covered employers may not:

  • Penalize the employee’s use of FMLA leave against any "no-fault" attendance policy.

Eligible Employees

The FMLA only applies to "eligible employees" who are defined as someone who:

  • Works for a covered employer;
  • Has worked for the employer for at least 12 months (it may not be necessary to have worked those months consecutively);
  • Has at least 1,250 hours of service for the employer during the 12 month period immediately preceding the leave;
  • Works at a location where the employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles.

The Leave Entitlement allows eligible employees to take up to 12 workweeks of leave in a 12-month period for:

  • The birth of a son or daughter or placement of a son or daughter with the employee for adoption or foster care;
  • The care of a spouse, son, daughter, or parent who has a serious health condition;
  • Select other purposes.

Eligible employees:

  • Must comply with their employer’s usual and customary requirements for requesting leave and provide enough information for their employer to reasonably determine whether the FMLA may apply to the leave request.
  • Should do their best to request leave 30 days in advance of the time the leave will begin.
  • If the need for leave becomes apparent less than 30 days in advance of the time the leave would begin, employees must provide notice as soon as possible and practicable under the circumstances.
  • Are not required to specifically cite FMLA rights when initially requesting the leave.
  • May opt to use the 12 total weeks of available FMLA leave on an intermittent basis and used for prenatal appointments, pregnancy-related medical conditions, physical recovery, and infant bonding.
  • May use accrued paid leave (such as sick leave or vacation time) to get paid for at least some of that time while on leave.
  • May take as much of their FMLA leave before childbirth as needed due to morning sickness or the need to be on bed rest as prescribed by their physician.
  • The employee should provide a physician’s note in the event that bed rest is prescribed.
  • May use FMLA for prenatal care visits and for childcare and parental leave post-delivery.
  • Must return to work once FMLA leave time has been used.

The Act allows, under certain circumstances, for:

  • Employees to opt to use, or "substitute" (run concurrently), accrued paid leave, such as sick or vacation leave, to cover some or all of the FMLA leave period in compliance with the employer’s normal leave policy.
  • Employers may opt to require that employees use the type of time described above as long as it’s consistent with the employer's normal leave policy.