Hot Topic: Family Medical Leaves

Earlier this year, an incident involving a major-league baseball player taking time off from “the job” after the birth of his son triggered a national debate. Absent collective bargaining agreements, like the one in place for major-league baseball, this issue remains a lightning rod for controversy.

The major controlling federal law in this area is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Under the FMLA, an eligible employee is entitled to take up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave to care for a newborn child or a qualified relative with a serious health condition. Here are the answers to some common questions on this topic.

Q. Does the FMLA apply to every business?

A. No. It does, however, apply to all public agencies—including state, local and federal employers, and local education agencies—as well as private employers who currently employ 50 or more employees for at least 20 workweeks or did so in the preceding calendar year. This includes joint employers and successors of covered employers.

Q. Is every employee eligible for coverage?

A. No. To be eligible for the FMLA, an employee must work for a covered employer and:

  • Have worked for that employer for at least 12 months;
  • Have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to the start of the FMLA leave; and
  • Work at a location where at least 50 employees are employed at the location or within 75 miles of the location.

Q. When does coverage apply?

A. The employer must grant an eligible employee up to a total of 12 workweeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period for one or more of the following reasons:

  • Birth of a son or daughter and to care for the newborn child;
  • Placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care and to care for the newly placed child;
  • To care for an immediate family member (spouse, child or parent, but not a parent “in-law”) with a serious health condition; and
  • If the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition.

A leave to care for a newborn child or for a newly placed child must end within 12 months after the birth or placement. Other special rules may apply to spouses employed by the same company.

Q. Can employees take leave intermittently or work a reduced schedule?

A. Yes, under certain circumstances. An intermittent or reduced schedule is allowed when it is medically necessary to care for a seriously ill family member or because of the employee’s own serious health condition. Also, such a leave may be taken to care for a newborn or newly placed adopted or foster care child, but only with the employer’s approval.

Of course, this is only a general overview of the rules. For a determination of the rights and responsibilities under the FMLA in any given situation, employers and employees alike should obtain professional assistance.