Under certain circumstances you have the right to take unpaid leave from work when you or someone in your family needs medical care.
Are any of these things happening to you?
- Are you having a baby or caring for a new baby?
- Are you adopting a child or getting a foster child?
- Are you very sick and unable to work?
- Is your child, spouse or parent very sick?
If you answered "YES" to any of the above questions, you should know about the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993. It protects your job when serious illness strikes or when a new child requires care.
What the Law Says
1. Have worked for the same company for at least 12 months; and
2. Have worked at least 1,250 hours in the past year; and
3. Work for a company with at least 50 employees, and there are 50 employees who work within 75 miles of your work site;
Then you are entitled to:
1. Take a total of 12 weeks off work without pay (your company may provide some pay; consult your company's sick leave and/or vacation leave policies).
2. Keep any health insurance you already had during the time you are off.
3. Get your old job back, or a job with equal pay, status and benefits, when you return.
Under certain conditions, employees may choose, or employers may require employees, to "substitute" (run concurrently) accrued paid leave, such as sick or vacation leave, to cover some or all of the FMLA leave period. An employee's ability to substitute accrued paid leave is determined by the terms and conditions of the employer's normal leave policy.
"What counts as "very sick?"
In order to qualify for unpaid leave under this law, you must require hospital care or continuing medical treatment. You can also take time off for prenatal care, severe morning sickness, and recovery from childbirth.
"What if I don't need to take off all 12 weeks at once?"
You can work fewer hours or take certain days off as you need them if you are very sick or need to care for a seriously ill family member. But for birth, adoption, or foster care placement, you can take off certain days or hours only if your boss agrees.
"Can my boss move me to a different job?"
Your boss can switch you to a different job if the pay, benefits and working conditions are the same as the job you previously held.
"What if my spouse and I work at the same place and both need to take time off?"
Each of you can take off up to 12 weeks for your own sickness or if you have a sick spouse or sick child. But for birth, adoption or foster child placement or care of a parent, you can only take a total of 12 weeks between the two of you.
"How much notice do I have to give my boss?"
You should tell your boss at least 30 days before you need time off. In case of an emergency, you or a family member must tell your boss as soon as possible.
"What if my boss doesn't believe me?"
Your boss may ask for proof that you are sick or that you need to take care of a sick family member. Ask your doctor or health care provider to answer your boss' questions in writing. If your boss doesn't believe you, a second doctor's opinion (for which your boss must pay) can be requested. If the first and second doctors do not agree, your employer can pay for a third opinion. The third opinion will be final.
"Can I get fired for taking time off?"
It is against the law for your boss to fire you for taking time off under these circumstances. The law protects you.
For more ideas on what to do if denied the time off that you have a right to under the Family and Medical Leave Act, see the section entitled "What You Can Do If You Are Discriminated Against."
Reprinted with permission from "Family & Medical Leave"; US Department of Labor Women's Bureau "Know Your Rights" brochure series.