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The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that provides eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year for specified family and medical reasons. This resource page is designed to help employers understand their responsibilities under the FMLA and ensure compliance with the law.

  • Overview of FMLA
  • Eligibility
  • Employer Responsibilities
  • Managing FMLA Leave
  • Common Employer Challenges
  • Simplify Your Paystub Reporting Journey with SecurePayStubs!

Overview of FMLA

What is FMLA?

The FMLA, or Family and Medical Leave Act, is a federal law in the United States. It provides eligible employees with the right to take unpaid, job-protected leave for certain family and medical reasons while maintaining their health benefits. This law aims to balance the demands of the workplace with the needs of families and personal health.

Key Provisions

Up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period for:

  • The birth of a child and to care for the newborn child within one year of birth.
  • The placement of a child for adoption or foster care and to care for the newly placed child within one year of placement.
  • To care for the employee's spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition.
  • A serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of their job.
  • Any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that the employee's spouse, son, daughter, or parent is a covered military member on “covered active duty.”
  • Up to 26 weeks of leave in a single 12-month period to care for a covered servicemember with a serious injury or illness if the eligible employee is the service member's spouse, child, parent, or next of kin (military caregiver leave).


Employee Eligibility

To be eligible for FMLA leave, an employee must:

  • Work for a covered employer.
  • Have worked for the employer for at least 12 months.
  • Have at least 1,250 hours of service during the 12 months prior to the start of leave.
  • Work at a location where the employer has 50 or more employees within 75 miles.

Employer Eligibility

An employer is covered by FMLA if they:

  • Are a private-sector employer, with 50 or more employees in 20 or more workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year.
  • Are a public agency, including a local, state, or federal government agency, regardless of the number of employees.
  • Are a public or private elementary or secondary school, regardless of the number of employees.

Employer Responsibilities

Employers have specific obligations under the FMLA, including posting required notices, providing timely information to employees requesting leave, and maintaining accurate records. These responsibilities ensure compliance with the law and support employees' rights to take leave for family and medical reasons.

Posting Requirements

Employers must post a notice explaining the rights and responsibilities under the FMLA. The notice must be displayed prominently where employees and applicants for employment can see it. Failure to post this notice can result in a fine.

Providing Notice

When an employee requests FMLA leave, the employer must provide the employee with:

  • Notice of Eligibility and Rights & Responsibilities within five business days.
  • Designation Notice stating whether the leave is designated as FMLA-protected and the amount of leave counted against the employee's FMLA entitlement.


Employers must maintain records for no less than three years, including:

  • Basic payroll and identifying employee data.
  • Dates FMLA leave is taken.
  • Copies of employee notices of leave.
  • Records of disputes regarding FMLA.

Managing FMLA Leave

Managing FMLA leave involves understanding both employee and employer rights. Employees have protections such as job restoration, continued health benefits, and protection against retaliation. Employers have the right to request medical certification, require the use of accrued paid leave, and manage intermittent leave schedules. Clear policies and effective communication are essential to ensure smooth and compliant FMLA leave management.

Employee Rights

  • Employees are entitled to return to their same or an equivalent position at the end of their FMLA leave.
  • Employees must maintain their health benefits during FMLA leave.
  • Employees have the right to take FMLA leave without any fear of retaliation from the employer.

Employer Rights

  • Employers can require employees to use accrued paid leave (such as sick or vacation leave) concurrently with FMLA leave.
  • Employers may request medical certification to support the need for leave due to a serious health condition.
  • Employers can also seek a second or third medical opinion (at the employer's expense) if they have reason to doubt the validity of the certification.

Intermittent Leave

  • FMLA leave may be taken intermittently or on a reduced schedule when medically necessary.
  • For birth or placement of a child, intermittent leave may be taken only with the employer's approval.
  • Employers may temporarily transfer an employee to an alternative position with equivalent pay and benefits if the alternative position better accommodates recurring periods of leave.

Common Employer Challenges

Employers must navigate various challenges, including managing leave requests, handling medical certifications, and preventing retaliation. Clear procedures, proper training, and effective communication are essential to address these issues and ensure compliance with FMLA regulations.

Managing Leave Requests

  • Establish clear procedures for employees to request FMLA leave.
  • Train HR personnel on FMLA regulations and compliance.
  • Implement a system to track FMLA leave accurately to ensure employees do not exceed their entitled leave.

Handling Medical Certifications

  • Use the Department of Labor’s model forms to ensure consistency.
  • Communicate with healthcare providers as necessary to verify certifications.
  • Respect confidentiality and handle all medical information in accordance with HIPAA regulations.

Avoiding Retaliation

  • Ensure no adverse actions are taken against employees for taking FMLA leave.
  • Document all employment actions thoroughly.
  • Conduct regular training sessions to educate managers and supervisors on FMLA compliance and the importance of avoiding retaliation.

Best Practices for Employers

To effectively manage FMLA leave, employers should develop comprehensive policies, provide ongoing training, maintain thorough documentation, and coordinate FMLA with other leave policies. Clear communication and regular policy reviews ensure compliance and support both employee and employer needs.

Developing FMLA Policies

  • Create a comprehensive FMLA policy included in the employee handbook.
  • Clearly outline the process for requesting FMLA leave, including required forms and documentation.
  • Communicate policies to all employees regularly and provide training sessions for management and HR staff.

Training and Education

  • Conduct regular training sessions for managers and HR personnel to stay updated on FMLA requirements.
  • Educate employees about their rights and responsibilities under the FMLA through orientations and workshops.

Documentation and Communication

  • Maintain accurate and detailed records of all FMLA leave requests, approvals, and denials.
  • Ensure open lines of communication with employees on leave to provide support and address any concerns promptly.
  • Keep detailed notes on conversations and communications related to FMLA leave to protect against disputes.

Coordinating with Other Leave Policies

  • Align FMLA leave policies with other leave policies such as short-term disability, long-term disability, and workers' compensation to ensure consistency.
  • Clarify how FMLA leave interacts with paid leave options and communicate this clearly to employees.
  • Regularly review and update policies to reflect changes in state or federal law and company practices.

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This article has been updated from its original publication date of June 11, 2024.