Experiencing personal health problems ranks near the top of the list of life’s stressors. But according to the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory, a major change in the health of a family member isn’t far behind. Dealing with these medical issues, meanwhile, can cause complications for employees.
While employers generally offer workers some form of sick leave that they can use in case of their own illness, what can you do if a close family member is having health difficulties? This is the purpose behind the Family and Medical Leave Act, a federal law that was passed in 1993 to help employees balance their work responsibilities with family demands. Here’s what to know about the FMLA:
— The FMLA allows for 12 weeks of leave during a 12-month period — but the leave is unpaid.
— You may be able to use paid leave while on FMLA leave.
— You’re only eligible to take FMLA leave under certain circumstances.
— Not every employer — or employee — is covered.
— You may need to provide proof of the serious medical condition.
— Your employer must offer you a job after your leave — but it may not be the exact job you had before.
— There are some new FMLA Guidelines in the American Rescue Plan.
[Read: A Guide to Calling in Sick.]
The FMLA allows for 12 weeks of leave during a 12-month period — but the leave is unpaid.
Since this law requires employers to let their workers take time off to care for an ill family member, you might assume that the time off would be paid — but you’d be wrong. You can take the sanctioned 12 weeks off per year to help out your ailing relative, but you won’t be able to collect a paycheck while you do it.
You may be able to use paid leave while on FMLA leave.
You may be able to use paid leave while on FMLA leave. Though the FMLA itself is unpaid, it is sometimes possible — under certain specific circumstances — to use paid leave that you’ve accrued on the job as a way to get paid during your FMLA leave. The types of paid leave that might be considered include vacation days and sick days, as well as other types of paid leave. There is no legal requirement, however, for employers to offer this type of extra paid leave. And some employers may require that you use up any paid leave that you’ve accrued prior to taking leave under the FMLA. Check with human resources to confirm your company’s policies.
You’re only eligible to take FMLA leave under certain circumstances.
While you may feel entitled to take time off under the FMLA for any type of family health crisis, the leave is only approved for specific reasons. The three designated circumstances to take leave under the FMLA are:
— To deal with a serious health condition of your own or of a family member.
— For specified reasons related to certain military deployments or to care for a covered service member.
— For the birth of a child and to bond with the newborn, or placement of a child with the employee for adoption or foster care.
Not every employer — or employee — is covered.
Just because you’re working for an employer doesn’t mean that it must offer you leave — some companies are not covered by the FMLA. Only employers who have had at least 50 employees for at least 20 weeks in the current or previous year must comply with the FMLA. Smaller employers with fewer than 50 employees are not mandated to follow FMLA law. Plus, even if your employer is covered by the FMLA, it doesn’t mean that you as an employee will be covered. If you haven’t worked for the company for at least one year, and at least 1,250 hours during that year, then you won’t be protected under the FMLA. (That’s around 156 days out of the year for an employee who works eight-hour days.) For eligibility, you also must work at a location where the employer has a minimum of 50 employees within a 75-mile radius.
You may need to provide proof of the serious medical condition.
Your word alone may not be enough for your employer to grant you FMLA leave. This can be a touchy subject since the law doesn’t require that employees show proof of their reason for requesting leave. But the FMLA does grant employers the right to ask for medical certification of the condition from a health care provider. The Department of Labor website advises employers to request this certified proof within five days of an employee requesting FMLA leave. If your supervisor does request medical certification from the doctor treating you or your family member, then you have 15 calendar days to provide that proof (in most circumstances). The DOL also states that an employer has the right to contact the health care provider to request clarification or authentication of the specific health issue in question.
Your employer must offer you a job after your leave — but it may not be the exact job you had before.
The good news is, FMLA legislation does require that your employer reinstate you as an employee in the company. Yet although you’re entitled to a job after going out on FMLA leave, the law doesn’t require that the company give you your old job back. Specifically, according to the DOL, “an employee must be restored to the employee’s original job, or to an equivalent job with equivalent pay, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment.” This means while you’ll ideally be offered your current job back, there is no guarantee of that. There is some gray area around the term “equivalent” — but as an example, if you take leave from a manager position, you should be offered the same or comparable management-level position upon your return.
There are some new FMLA Guidelines in the American Rescue Plan.
In 2020, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act provided an FMLA extension, with three ways for employees who worked at a businesses with 500 or fewer workers to receive paid sick leave in light of the coronavirus pandemic. While this expired on Dec. 31, it previously allowed workers who were quarantined or having symptoms of COVID-19 up to 80 hours of paid sick leave at their regular pay rate.
FFCRA also had allowed up to 80 hours of paid sick leave and up to 10 weeks of additional paid family and medical sick leave at two-thirds of their regular pay rate for those quarantined or needing to care for a child whose school closed due to COVID-19 or other eligible reasons.
Now, under the American Rescue Plan, Congress made FMLA a voluntary option for businesses. “Congress extended the current tax credits for voluntary sick leave pay to Sept. 30, 2021, and added a new reason for leave. Now, workers may be eligible for time off to receive the COVID-19 vaccine or if they are having side effects related to receiving the vaccine,” according to a guide on FMLA during the coronavirus pandemic from U.S. News & World Report.
There are plenty of other regulations and provisions to understand in relation to taking leave under the FMLA. For more information on FMLA legislation and its full requirements, visit the Department of Labor’s website.
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What Employees Should Know About the Family and Medical Leave Act originally appeared on usnews.com
Update 03/22/21: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.