The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protects employees from losing their jobs, salaries, and benefits should they need to take an extended period of time off work due to their own or a family member’s illness, to recover from giving birth, or to care for a new child. As a small business owner, you may be required to comply with the FMLA if you have a certain number of employees, even if they are split up between multiple locations.
Even if you aren’t required to comply with the FMLA, you may want to consider offering family and medical leave benefits in order to create a workplace culture that encourages your best employees to stay and continue giving the company their best work.
What Is the FMLA?
The FMLA was instituted in 1993 to allow employees to juggle both their professional and family obligations without sacrificing their careers or livelihoods in times of family illness. Under the FMLA, an employee may take at least 12 weeks off of work, without compromising his or her salary, benefits, or position, if he or she has worked at the company for at least 12 months and has put in at least 1,250 hours in the past year. The 12 months need not be consecutive. Time spent on-call counts toward hours worked for FMLA leave, but vacation, paid time off, and sick leave do not.
When employees return to work from leave taken under the FMLA, their employers must return them to their positions, and offer them the same salary, benefits, and work hours they had previously. If the employee is no longer able to perform that job, the employer must offer another position with the same benefits, hours, and salary as the employee’s previous position.
When May Employees Take FMLA Leave?
An employee may be able to take FMLA leave if he or she develops a health condition that prevents him or her from working, or in order to care for a member of his or her family who is ill. Reasons employees may take FMLA leave include:
- Pregnancy or prenatal complications
- Caring for a new child, whether biological, adopted, or fostered
- Long-term conditions including cancer and Alzheimer’s disease
- Ongoing medical treatment, including dialysis or chemotherapy
- Chronic conditions like epilepsy or diabetes
The FMLA offers three kinds of leave to employees.
- Continuous leave kicks in when an employee or family member must leave work for more than three consecutive days to seek the care of a doctor.
- Intermittent leave allows an employee to take off time in blocks in order to seek treatment for a health condition. This kind of leave may be taken in increments of as little as an hour or as long as a week, and is usually the best choice for employees who need ongoing treatment.
- Reduced schedule leave allows employees to cut back on their daily or weekly work hours in order to care for an ill family member or recover from an illness.
Is Your Business Required to Comply with the FMLA?
Any company with 50 or more workers working within 75 miles of one another must comply with the FMLA, even if they are working at loosely linked separate locations. If you have multiple locations, you may still need to comply with the FMLA if those locations share operations, management, control of labor relations, or some degree of ownership and financial control. FMLA training is the best way to ensure that you are complying with the FMLA and offering your employees the access to family and medical leave that is theirs by right.
Even if your company doesn’t meet the requirements for FMLA compliance, you may want to consider offering family and medical leave anyway. State laws may require it, and it will keep your best employees from leaving the company. Consider offering leave based on the FMLA guidelines, or according to those laid forth in your state’s laws.
If you’re worried about getting by without one or more key employees, consider cross-training some of your high-performers to pick up one another’s slack. If you know an employee will soon need leave to welcome a new child to the family, begin preparing in advance to have someone take over his or her position on a temporary basis. Make sure there’s a plan in place to help the absent employee transition back into his or her position after his or her leave has ended.
The FMLA protects employees from losing their jobs, salaries, or benefits because of their own or a family member’s illness. Even if your business isn’t required to comply with this law, offering employees family and medical leave is a good policy. It shows you care about them as people — and that fosters the kind of employee loyalty that helps small businesses thrive.