Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA): Overview and Importance

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  • 0:03 FMLA
  • 1:13 Covered Employers
  • 1:44 Eligible Employees
  • 2:31 Eligible Events &…
  • 3:52 Enforcement
  • 4:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

Sometimes tragic or important personal events, such as a birth, medical illness or death of a loved one, require us to take time off from work. In this lesson, you'll learn how the Family and Medical Leave Act protects employees during these times.


Charles works as an account manager for a software company. He's been with the company for over five years and is very successful at his job. Unfortunately, tragedy has recently visited Charles' life late last year when his wife was diagnosed with terminal cancer. His wife's oncologist just informed them that she has about a month left.

Charles wants to care for his wife during the end, but he's already used up all of his personal leave. He's worried about his job. He has two kids he needs to support, and losing his job will certainly threaten their well-being. He confides in a close friend, John, who happens to work in human resources.

John tells Charles that the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows an eligible employee to take unpaid leave for specific family and medical reasons if the employer is covered under the Act. FMLA protects a person's job while on leave. In other words, an employee can't be fired or discriminated against for taking the leave. Upon his return from the leave, Charles will either have his old job back or an equivalent job with the same pay, benefits and conditions of employment.

Covered Employers

John explains that not all employers are required to abide by FMLA. Covered employers include all private companies that employ at least 50 employees in 20 or more workweeks in the current or past calendar year. The Act also applies to all public agencies and public or private primary and secondary schools regardless of the number of employees. Charles is happy to hear this because his company is definitely a covered employer. He asks John who's eligible for the leave.

Eligible Employees

John does admit that not all employees are eligible to take FMLA leave. The employee must work for a covered employer for at least 12 months before being eligible to take FMLA leave. An employee must also have worked at least 1,250 hours for the employer during the 12 months prior to taking the leave.

However, the 1,250 hours do not have to be consecutive. There can be a break in service during the year. Examples include seasonal work in agriculture and construction. Finally, the employee must work at a location where her employer has at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius. Again, Charles is hopeful because he's an eligible employee.

Eligible Events and Maximum Leave

Charles then asks John whether he can take leave to take care of his wife, and if so, for how long. John explains that eligible employees can take up to 12 workweeks of leave in a 12-month period for covered reasons. According to the Department of Labor, leave can be taken for:

  • The birth or adoption of an employee's child
  • The care of a spouse, child or parent who has a serious health condition
  • An employee's health condition that is so serious that the employee cannot perform the essential functions of his or her job
  • Certain circumstances due to a spouse, child or parent who is a member of the military on covered active duty or called to covered active duty status. For example, an employee may take leave to make arrangements in preparations for the person going overseas, such as childcare arrangements or even counseling related to active duty service.

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