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Your Right to Time Off Work When You or a Family Member Is Ill or Injured

Although many employers discourage use of sick time, federal laws give you a right to use time off if you are sick in certain circumstances. Many employers offer a certain amount of paid sick leave; however, that time is distinct from eligible time you may take off under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) if you and your employer meet certain requirements. FMLA provides you with an extended period of time off in case you or a loved one becomes ill or injured.

What Is FMLA?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) permits eligible employees who are employed by covered employers to take unpaid leave for specific family and medical situations without fear of losing their jobs. FMLA provides for up to 12 weeks of time off within a 12 month period for any of the following reasons:

  • Childbirth, adoption, or foster care
  • Care for a spouse, child, or parent who has a serious medical condition
  • Serious health conditions of the employee who cannot perform essential functions of their job
  • Qualifying exigency arising out of military service of the employee, spouse, child, or parent

Additionally, eligible employees may qualify for up to 26 weeks of leave during a 12 month period to care for a military service member who is a spouse, child, or parent with a serious injury or illness.

Leave may be taken in one whole 12 week block or it may be intermittent, depending on the medical need. Time may be taken for scheduled medical appointments or for unexpected situations. If medical leave is taken intermittently, it must not interfere with employer operations. Additionally, FMLA leave taken for childbirth, adoption, or foster care is subject to employer approval.

Who Can Use FMLA Leave Time?

Although FMLA is a federal law, not all employers and employees are subject to its provisions. Most employers who are subject to FMLA have specific policies for when and how to use FMLA leave. However, knowing your rights when you or a loved one become ill is the best way to ensure your rights are respected.

Employers who are covered by FMLA include:

  • Public agencies and government organizations
  • Private employers who employ at least 50 employees for at least 20 work-weeks each year
  • Private employers who employ at least 50 employees at multiple locations within 75 miles

If you work for a school, local government, or federal park, your employer is subject to FMLA regulations. If you work for a private corporation with 100 employees for half the year, but that number reduces to 20 employees during some months, your employer is probably still subject to FMLA regulations. However, if your private employer only has 20 employees all year round, it may not be required to offer FMLA time off to employees.

Like employers, only some employees are covered by FMLA regulations. Employees are eligible for FMLA leave if:

  • They have worked for an eligible employer for at least 12 months
  • They have worked for an eligible employer for at least 1,250 hours over the last 12 months

If you’ve been with your current employer for at least the past year and have worked an average of 25 hours per week, you are likely covered by FMLA.

FMLA eligibility can be complicated. Employers often try to avoid coverage because they don’t want to be subject to the additional regulations imposed by FMLA. If you have questions about whether you or your employer is covered under FMLA, an experienced California FMLA employment lawyer can help.

Responsibilities of Covered Employers

Employers who are covered by FMLA must comply with requirements of the law. In addition to allowing for employees to take eligible leave, covered employers must:

  • Post a notice explaining FMLA rights and responsibilities
  • Include FMLA information in employee handbooks and to new hires
  • Provide information to employees who request FMLA leave regarding their rights and responsibilities
  • Notify employees whether leave is designated as FMLA leave

How to Take FMLA Leave

Your employer should have policies on how to properly take FMLA leave. Although your eligibility is determined by law, the procedures you should take to notify your employer and provide proof of eligibility will vary from employer to employer. In most situations, you must:

  • Notify your supervisor and human resources department that you need to take FMLA leave. You do not have to provide details, but you must offer enough information that your employer knows you are taking FMLA leave for an eligible reason.
  • Complete necessary paperwork to provide proof of eligibility for FMLA leave. Your employer may request certification of your serious health condition or other situation that makes you eligible for FMLA leave. Your medical provider should be able to offer any information necessary.

FMLA leave provides necessary time off work for eligible employees who work for covered employers who experience serious family and medical situations. If you have questions regarding whether you are eligible for FMLA leave, or if your employer has failed to uphold its responsibilities under FMLA, contact us today.

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