If you’re caring for a parent or other loved one, you know that caregiver responsibilities don’t always fit around your work schedule. You may need to take an extended leave from work to give Mom or Dad the care they need and to avoid caregiver burnout. That’s where the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) comes in.
What Is FMLA?The Family and Medical Leave Act is a 1993 law that helps eligible workers take time off to care for themselves or a loved one without fear of losing their job or their health insurance. FMLA leave can be used to care for a new child, recover from a serious illness or care for a family member who has a serious health issue. FMLA allows eligible workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from work every 12 months. FMLA leave is usually taken all at once, but you may be able to take it in chunks or in the form of reduced hours.
Who Can Take a Leave Under FMLA?
To become an FMLA caregiver, you must meet all of the following work-related requirements:
- You work for a government agency, an elementary school or a secondary school, or you work for a private sector employer that has 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius of the office in which you work.
- You have worked for your employer for at least 12 months. The 12 months do not have to be consecutive as long as the break was less than 7 years long.
- You will have worked at least 1,250 hours for your employer during the 12 months immediately prior to the leave.
Don’t meet all of these criteria? Ask your employer about its leave policy anyway. Some employers provide caregiver leave to employees even if they are not required to do so under the law.
What Family Members Are Covered Under FMLA?
To be eligible to take FMLA leave to care for someone with a serious health condition, the person you are caring for must meet the FMLA family member definition. FMLA-covered family members are:
- Your child
- Your spouse
- Your parent
- A child, or an adult with a disability, for whom you serve as a guardian, or an adult who once served as a guardian for you
You can’t be an FMLA caregiver for grandparents, grandchildren, siblings, in-laws or other extended family members unless you are their guardian or they were once your guardian.
Is FMLA Leave Paid?
Your company is not required to pay you during any part of your FMLA leave. Still, some companies choose to offer fully or partially paid leave to help their employees take care of FMLA-covered family members. You may wish to use paid time off you have accrued to partially fund your leave – in fact, many companies require you to do so. If you normally pay for a portion of your work-sponsored health insurance premium, you must continue to pay that portion during your leave unless your employer chooses to pay it for you.
Each company’s family leave policy is unique. Consult your employee handbook or talk to a human resources representative or your boss to get information about your company’s leave policy. Learning about the policy before you need to use it can make taking an FMLA leave easier for you.
How Do I Take FMLA Leave?
If your need for FMLA leave is foreseeable (like if a parent is scheduled to have surgery and will need your help recovering afterward), you must let your employer know about it 30 days ahead of time. If you need to take FMLA leave because of an emergency, just let your employer know what’s going on as soon as you can. You may also need to provide documentation of your loved one’s medical condition.
Work is important, but it shouldn’t keep you from giving your parents or another loved one the care they need. Understanding what FMLA is and how to take FMLA for family members can help you avoid worrying about losing your job or your health insurance, so you can focus on what’s most important – family.