Overview of FMLA requirements and protections

On Behalf of | Apr 22, 2024 | Employment Law

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) offers federal protection for employees. It enables them to take up to 12 weeks off work without pay under specific circumstances.

It’s critical for employers and employers to understand exactly what FMLA provides and the requirements associated with these benefits.

Eligibility and entitlements

Employees are eligible for FMLA leave if they work for a “covered employer,” have worked for the employer for at least 12 months and have clocked at least 1,250 hours of service in the 12 months prior to the start of the leave. Covered employers include all public agencies, all public and private elementary and secondary schools, and companies with 50 or more employees.

Eligible employees can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period for the birth and care of a newborn child, for the adoption or foster care placement of a child, to care for an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent) with a serious health condition, or to take medical leave when the employee is unable to work due to a serious health condition.

Employee benefits and protections

During FMLA leave, an employer must maintain the employee’s health benefits under any group health plan on the same terms as if the employee had continued to work. Upon return from FMLA leave, most employees must be restored to their original or equivalent positions with equivalent pay, benefits, and other employment terms. The Act also provides that an employee’s use of FMLA leave cannot result in the loss of any employment benefit that the employee earned or was entitled to before using FMLA leave.

Employer responsibilities

Employers are required to inform employees of their rights and responsibilities under the FMLA, including providing specific written notice about FMLA protections and the procedures for filing complaints of violations of the Act with the Department of Labor. Employers are prohibited from retaliating against an employee for using or trying to use FMLA leave, as well as from interfering with, restraining, or denying the exercise of FMLA rights.

Challenges and considerations

Both employers and employees may face challenges related to FMLA protections and obligations. Employers must carefully manage requests to ensure compliance without disrupting business operations, while employees must navigate the complexity of FMLA regulations to understand their rights and responsibilities and ensure their doctors provide the required information.

Communication between employers and employees about expectations and obligations – in addition to personalized legal guidance, whenever necessary – can help alleviate misunderstandings and conflicts in this regard.

In Massachusetts, employees have additional rights (up to 20 weeks of medical leave and 12 weeks of family leave (capped at 26 weeks in the aggregate)) under the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act, which provides them with income during the leave period and has some built-in protections upon coming back to work.