Like the ADA, the Family and Medical Leave Act is a federal law that protects individuals who need to take time off from work due to their own illness or to care for a loved one. All employers who employ 50 or more people for 20 or more workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year must offer FMLA benefits. The FMLA entitles eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in a 12-month period for specified family and medical reasons.
To be eligible for FMLA benefits, an employee must:
- Work for a covered employer
- Have worked for the employer for a total of 12 months
- Have worked at least 1,250 hours over those 12 months
- Work at a location in the United States or in any territory or possession of the United States where at least 50 employees are employed by the employer within 75 miles
The FMLA cites several reasons a covered employer must grant an eligible employee up to a total of 12 workweeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period including:
- To care for a spouse, parent or minor child with a serious health condition
- To take medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition (cancer treatment generally qualifies as a “serious health condition”)
Importantly, for people receiving treatment for cancer, employees may take FMLA leave intermittently. This means an employee can take leave in separate blocks of time for a single qualifying reason or reduce his or her usual weekly or daily work schedule. The law does say that when leave is needed for planned medical treatment, the employee must make a reasonable effort to schedule treatment so as not to unduly disrupt the employer’s operation.
Upon return from FMLA leave, an employee must be restored to his or her original job or to an equivalent job with equivalent pay, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment. If you are unable to return to work after the equivalent of 12 weeks away, your employer may have the option to terminate your employment.
Some employers also allow colleagues to donate accrued sick leave or paid-time-off to co-workers in need. You can check with your human resources representative to see if this is an option for you.
While you are on FMLA leave, your employer is required to maintain your group health insurance coverage on the same terms as if you continued to work. If you were having part of the health care premium deducted from your paycheck each pay period, you will need to make arrangements to pay your share while on leave.