There’s a good chance you have heard of the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993, better known as FMLA. The funny thing is, it seems that everyone has heard of it, but no one seems to really understand it. So I thought I would give everyone a crash course in what it is, what it isn’t, and why you should care.
First up, FMLA is a Federal Program. A law, actually, so assuming you qualify, you are entitled to it. How do you know if you qualify? Answer a few simple questions:
1. Does your employer have 50 or more employees within 75 miles of where you work? This is important because, let’s say you work for Acme Oil and Gas, a fairly large energy company with 2,000 employees worldwide. So far, so good. You are stationed at their Notrees, Texas station. You and Bob and a 3 legged dog you started feeding have made up the crew for a good while. In this case, Acme may still offer you some type of FMLA-like benefit, they may even call it FMLA, but under the strictest sense of the law, they are not required to do so.
2. Have you worked for the company for at least 1 year?
3. Within that 1 year have you worked 1,250 hours?
If you answered yes to all of these questions, congratulations, you are FMLA eligible.
Now, what does FMLA cover?
1. Birth or adoption of a child – this is good for either Mom or Dad.
2. You or an immediate family member has a serious health condition.
3. Certain situations related to an immediate family member being called up to foreign active duty in the armed forces. This can include issues arising due to short-notice deployments, child care, or care for parents of the service member, etc. – all related to the deployment.
4. To care for an immediate family member who has returned from active military service and is undergoing medical treatment.
So, what is FMLA, anyway?
FMLA is job protection – plain, pure and simple. In most instances, it is an unpaid leave, though there has been a push recently, both in various states, as well at the Federal level to provide for pay while on leave. But even if you don’t live somewhere that provides for paid leave from a legal standpoint, that doesn’t mean you can’t get paid while on FMLA. It can be taken along with sick, vacation, short-term disability, or any other kind of paid benefit. But if you have exhausted or otherwise are not eligible for these types of benefits, FMLA will not provide you with a paycheck.
OK, so if you don’t get paid, what good is it?
As I said earlier, FMLA is job protection, which ain’t a bad thing to have…. In most cases, you can be out sick and be fired. Just because you are taking sick time does not mean that you cannot be let go. You can be let go if you are on vacation as well. Even short-term disability is nothing more than an insurance policy for your lost income. It is not job protection. FMLA is like an umbrella that you tuck all this other stuff under. Does this mean if you are on FMLA that you can’t be fired? No. If you were a terrible employee and just happen to go out on FMLA as your boss is getting wise to you, don’t think that you can waive the FMLA card and be given some kind of immunity. Yes, your employer will have to be more diligent proving that they are firing you due to something that is NOT FMLA related, which just means that they will just have to prove that you suck. They can’t expect someone to take their word for it.