According to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a leave year is a right an employee has to take an FMLA leave, provided the employee works for a covered employer. Generally, the FMLA covers private employers with 50 or more employees, government agencies, and elementary and secondary schools. However, the FMLA does not cover private employers with less than 50 employees.
To be eligible to take an FMLA leave, the employee must fulfill the following requirements:
- The employee must have worked for the covered employer for at least twelve months. The employee may or may not have been working for twelve months in a row. However, if the employee had a break in service that lasted for more than seven years, the time worked before the break does not count.
- The employee must have worked for the covered employer for at least 1250 hours (around 24 hours per week) in the 12 months before taking the FMLA leave.
- The employee must work at a location where the employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles of the worksite.
The employee may take up to twelve weeks of FMLA unpaid job-protected leave during any 12 months period if it is eligible under the above-described criterion and works for a covered employer. During the FMLA leave, the employee will not get paid but will continue with health insurance coverage. Nonetheless, the employee may be required to continue making regular employee contributions.
The employee may take the FMLA leave for any of the following reasons:
- For a serious health condition (a) affecting the employee’s capacity to work, or (b) affecting the employee’s spouse, child, or parent, to take care of any of them. The employer may require the employee to provide a medical certification.
- For a military deployment, or to take care of a covered servicemember with a serious injury or illness. In the second case, the employee may take up to 26 weeks of FMLA leave.
- For the birth of a child or the placement of a child for adoption or foster care. The employee must take the leave within one year of the child’s birth or placement in a continuous block of leave unless agreed otherwise with the employer (intermittent leave).
The employee may take the FMLA leave as either a single block of time or in multiple blocks of time, if medically necessary. Although the FMLA leave is unpaid, the employee may use available sick leave or vacation time along with the FMLA leave so that the employer continues paying the employee during the FMLA leave. The employer may require the employee to take a paid leave (if available) even if the employee does not want to use it.
When the employee returns from the FMLA leave, the employer must return the employee to the same job or another nearly identical to it, with equivalent pay, benefits, and other employment conditions. Any FMLA leave the employee takes may not be held against the employee in employment actions, such as promotions or disciplinary processes.
[Last updated in July of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]