The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 allows employees to take care of family responsibilities without fear of losing their jobs. It requires employers to allow qualified employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off to welcome a new child to the family, to care for an ill family member, or to recover from their own serious health issue. This act established minimum federal standards. Some states have chosen to provide additional coverage.

Minimum Eligibility for FMLA

The act applies to public sector employers with 50 or more employees. It applies also to state and local government agencies, as well as both public and private education agencies, which do not need to have 50 employees. To be eligible to take FMLA leave, you must be an employee at a covered employer who has: - Worked for the employer for at least 12 months, although those months do not need to be consecutive - Worked at least 1,250 hours during the preceding 12 months

Eligible employees are entitled to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave in any 12-month period for specific family or medical reasons. Eligible reasons include: - The birth and care of a new baby. This leave must be taken within one year of birth. - The adoption or foster care placement of a child. This leave must be within one year of placement. - Providing care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition ( An immediate family member is a spouse, a child or a parent; a serious health condition is one that requires continuing treatment either as an inpatient or on an outpatient basis) - Your own health condition, which is serious enough that you cannot do your job - Any urgent situation caused by the call to active duty of an immediate family member in the National Guard or Reserves.

In addition, the Military Caregiver Leave allows 26 weeks of leave during a 12-month period to care for an injured or ill service member who is your immediate family member or next of kin.

Rights and Responsibilities Under FMLA

An employer may not discriminate against you for taking leave under FMLA, and has to return you to your previous job or one that is equivalent, including in terms of pay and benefits. Your employer must also continue any group health benefits you were receiving. Your employer may: - Require that you use a specified number of paid leave days before taking unpaid FMLA leave - Count time off due to pregnancy complications against the 12-week entitlement - Require proof of serious illness - Require periodic updates as to when you may be able to return to work or to a normal schedule

In return, you must provide your employer with at least 30 days notice for any foreseeable FMLA leave. In case of an emergency, you must let your employer know as soon as possible. You also have the right to: - Request to substitute some unpaid leave with accrued paid leave days - Take leave intermittently, rather than consecutively. You may need this, for example, if a sick parent doesn't need continuous care but needs transportation to frequent medical appointments.

FMLA provides valuable protections for employees who may need time off work for legitimate family reasons. If you need time off for a covered reason, do not be afraid to request it. If your employer makes it difficult for you to take leave, consult with a lawyer familiar with employment law and file a complaint with the US Department of Labor.