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The Family and Medical Leave Act may provide unpaid time off due to the serious health condition of an employee or an employee’s immediate family member. However, only certain employers, known as “covered employers,” are required to comply with this law. Additionally, employees must meet certain basic requirements before they are entitled to the leave.

This article will guide you to know whether you are entitled to unpaid time off without risking your job.

Employer Requirements

Only employers who are considered “covered” under this federal law must comply. Public agencies are all covered, as are elementary and secondary schools. However, private employers are only covered by the FMLA if all of the following apply:

  • Employed at least 50 employees
  • In 20 or more workweeks
  • In the current or preceding calendar year

If your employer doesn’t meet these requirements, you are not entitled to unpaid leave and if you take unapproved time off, your job could be at risk.

Employee Requirements

When FMLA leave is requested for an employee or an immediate family member, the qualifying health condition must be considered “serious.” This means that the affected person either requires inpatient care or a continuing course of treatment. In addition, an employee must meet the following requirements:

  • Worked for a covered employer
  • For at least 1,250 hours
  • In the prior 12 months
  • At a location where the employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles
  • Does not qualify as a “key” employee

The Protections

Once these requirements are met, an employee may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, as long as proper, timely documentation is provided. An employer may require an eligible employee to submit a certification from a health care provider to support the request for FMLA leave. The employer may also require additional medical opinions, at its own expense.

If the need for leave is foreseeable, the request for FMLA leave must be submitted 30 days in advance. If the need is not foreseeable, the request must be provided as soon as possible and practicable. An employer may require an employee to substitute paid leave to cover part or all of the 12-week period.

FMLA leave may be taken all at once, intermittently, or on a reduced schedule. For example, one employee may need to take off eight weeks after the birth of a baby; another may need to take leave from time to time for migraine headaches or cancer treatments.

The employer must continue existing group health care coverage during the period of leave. The employer may also request recertification at reasonable intervals. At the end of the leave, the employee must be placed in his or her former job or one that is substantially equivalent.

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