The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law passed in 1993 that guarantees time off of work without threat of job loss during periods of family stress. It is best known for providing women time off work after pregnancy, but the law is actually much broader than that and includes non-aid leave of up to 12 weeks for several other reasons.
FMLA applies to you for personal illness but also applies when a family member requires your time during a major illness, after a birth or adoption of a child, or deployment, in the case of a military family. It is important to emphasize that the leave is unpaid but does guarantee you can return to work afterward.
A great part of the FMLA is that qualifying employees will still be covered by their employer-provided health insurance even when on leave. During your time off, your employer may require you to make regular insurance premium payments, which are usually deducted from your paycheck, or you may be required to catch up on employee contributions upon your return.
So what are qualifying reasons to request leave? The best known reason, of course, is the birth of a child. Both you and your partner can take time off to care for and bond with your newest family member. However, leave must be taken within the first year of birth and in a continuous block (unless you come to a different arrangement with your employer, such as going part-time).
Leave can also be taken for adoption or as a foster parent. As with a birth, the leave must be taken within the first year of placement and in a continuous block. Other qualifying reasons include:
- Care for serious health condition that prevents you from being able to perform your job.
- Care for a family member (spouse, child or parent) who has a serious health issue.
- A qualifying emergency event due to a spouse, child, or parent is a member of the military and is or was called to active duty.
To qualify for FMLA, you need to know if you are working for a covered employer AND that your work situation qualifies. Not all employers are mandated by the FMLA and you need to have worked for the employer for at least 12 months prior to taking leave.
Reviewed by Dr. Heather Felton, April 2020
- If you qualify, FMLA provides for medical leave of up to 12 weeks without loss of your job.
- Pregnancy, adoption, serious personal illness, and serious illness in your family are some common reasons why people take family medical leave.
- While on leave, your health insurance should remain active.