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Frequently asked questions about the Family Medical Leave Act

When an unexpected family or medical problem comes up and you are forced to leave your job for a period of time, concerns about keeping that job can weigh heavily on your mind. Fortunately, the Family Medical Leave Act is in place to provide job-protected, unpaid leave while safeguarding health insurance coverage as if you had never left the job.

What is the FMLA?

FLMA took effect in 1993 to help Americans juggle the demands of the workplace along with the demands and medical needs of a family. Every 12-month period, employees can take a 12-week unpaid leave break. This can be to care for a family member with a health condition or for your own personal health. The FMLA can also be used when a parent needs time to bond with a new foster child or an adopted child.

Can I use it before using paid leave?

It's up to your employer or HR to determine if you must use your paid leave before using the FMLA. You may also choose to use your paid leave before moving to the benefits of the FMLA, because then you keep getting paid as long as possible. There are obvious financial benefits to using paid time before tapping into the FMLA.

Are all employees eligible?

The simple answer is no. You don't get extended leave just because you have a job. Employees must have 12 months of working with the company before requesting leave, and during those 12 months, they must have worked more than 1,250 hours. If you work eight hour days, that means you would have to work around 156 days in a year before qualifying for benefits.

Do I have to give proof?

To take leave under the FMLA, your employer can ask for proof of your condition or that of your family member, although this can be a touchy subject. The law doesn't require that you must provide proof, but if you employer requests it, you must get a certification from a qualified healthcare provider. According to the Department of Labor, an employer must ask within five business days of when you requested the leave, and may even request clarification or authentication from your healthcare provider on their own.

Will I get my same job back?

Under the FMLA, employers are required to hold a job, but not necessarily the employee's original job. The good news is that your new job must have equal benefits, pay and similar terms and conditions.

If you are under financial or emotional stress because you are a caregiver or have a serious medical condition, an attorney may be able to help you navigate the tricky waters of getting leave from your job under the FMLA.

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