The Family Medical Leave Act requires larger employers to provide all covered employees with up to 12 weeks time off per year for medical reasons. Not all employers are required to provide the leave. And not all employees are entitled to the leave. The only employers who must provide the leave are those that have 50 or more employees within a 75 mile radius of the worksite where the employee seeking leave works. The employee is not entitled to the leave until the employee has worked for that employer for at least 12 months and at least 1,250 hours during the twelve months before taking leave.
Medical leave is only protected under this law if the leave is for a "serious health condition." Although definitions of this phrase are provided in the statute enacted by Congress and the regulations issued by the United States Department of Labor, the term is often the subject of litigation and court decisions to determine whether a particular health condition is "serious." But when an employee covered under the statute suffers from a serious health condition, or the spouse, parent, or child of the employee suffers from a serious health condition, the employee is entitled to take protected medical leave.
Under the FMLA, employers have many responsibilities and obligations to their employees when administering the medical leave. While an employee must notify an employer that the employee needs time off for health reasons, the employee's obligations are few unless the obligations are: (1) clearly established by the employer before the employee's need for medical leave arises, and (2) consistently enforced by the employer after the need arises for each employee taking leave. As a result, employers should routinely confer with legal counsel to confirm that their Family and Medical Leave Act policies conform with the law. And employees should seek legal counsel concerning their rights if the employee has been:
- denied the right to take medical leave; or
- retaliated against for seeking or taking medical leave; or
- confronted with conduct by an employer designed to restrict the employee's ability to take medical leave.