Summary: Family and Medical Leave Act

Public and private sector employees who have been employed by the employer for one year and work at least 1,250 hours (25 hours a week) can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave* in any 12 month period for: the birth or adoption of a child; acquiring a foster child; the serious illness of a child, spouse, or parent; and, the serious illness of the employee.

- Companies with fewer than 50 employees are not required to provide Family and Medical Leave.**

- The right to take leave applies equally to male and female workers who are employed at or within 75 miles of the work place by an employer of 50 or more workers.

- Leave can be taken intermittently, is subject to employer approval, and does not result in a reduction in the total amount of leave to which the employee is entitled. - When husband and wife work for the same employer, the total amount of leave that they may take is limited to 12 weeks if they are taking leave for the birth or adoption of a child or to care for a sick parent.

- An employee may elect or an employer may require the employee to substitute categories of paid leave, such as accrued time off or vacation time, for any part of the 12-week period.

- The employer maintains any pre-existing health insurance for the duration of the leave and at the level and under the same conditions coverage was provided prior to commencement of the leave. Employers can ask the employee to cover his/her share of the premiums. Employers are not required to continue benefits like life and disability insurance but cannot require employees to requalify for benefits.

- The employee must be restored to the original or an equivalent position with equivalent benefits, pay, and all other terms and conditions of employment.

- An employer may require certification from a health care provider to support a claim for leave. But if an employer asks one employee for proof of a serious illness, the employer must ask all employees for equivalent certification.

- When the need for leave is foreseeable, an employee is required to provide at least 30 days advance notice.

- The highest paid 10 percent of salaried employees may be denied job restoration to prevent substantial and grievous economic injury to the employer.

- Employee rights are enforceable through civil actions. Actions must be brought not later than 2 years after the date of the last event constituting the alleged violation, or within 3 years of the last even if the violation is willful.

- Complaints about violations of the law are filed with the Department of Labor's Employment Standards Administration (ESA). Inquiries should be directed to local offices of the Wage and Hour Division, ESA.

- The Act does not supersede any State or local law, collective bargaining agreement, or employment benefit plan providing greater employee family leave rights, nor does it diminish the capacity to adopt more generous family leave policies. 1

*States and territories now offering longer leaves than the 12 weeks specified in the FMLA are: California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Louisiana, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, and Tennessee.

**States covering more employees than the 50 or more specified in the FMLA are:
Oregon covers companies with 25 or more employees
District of Columbia covers companies with 20 or more employees
Maine covers companies with 15 or more employees
Vermont covers companies with 10 or more employees

The Summary: Family and Medical Leave Act is published in the public interest by Blue Point Books, a grass-roots effort by an informal network of people who want to share information and experiences about workplace issues.

For your free copy of the FMLA Summary, send an e-mail to and enter in the subject area: FMLA Summary

1. "Two Years Without Sleep Working Moms Talk About Having a Baby and a Job," edited by Cathy Feldman. Blue Point Books, 1994. Prepared in collaboration with the Women's Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor. This general summary of the law should not be relied on as legal advice. --CF

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