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“Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”

Workers in every sector are increasingly taking this quote to heart, and taking advantage of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) offered by their employers. This law allows an employee to take unpaid leave to care for a loved one with a serious medical condition, spend time with a newborn baby, or address personal medical needs, in addition to other provisions.

Established in 1993, the FMLA gives certain rights to employees to ensure job protection in the event they need time off for specific health and family reasons. Since the FMLA took effect, the trend of creating work-life balance has grown, but some employers remain unclear about eligibility requirements and protocols surrounding the regulation.

To help you understand the law and its scope, we’ll take a look at how the FMLA works, which businesses it applies to and some best practices for ensuring compliance.

FMLA Overview

The FMLA doesn’t apply to every business — only those with more than 50 employees must comply. This federal act requires these organizations to grant employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year for circumstances including:

  • The birth or adoption of a child, or placement of a child in foster care
  • Caring for a spouse, child or parent with a serious health condition
  • A personal health condition for which an employee is unable to perform job duties

FMLA can also be provided for military leave. An employee can take up to 26 weeks unpaid leave to handle specific situations that require attention due to the military deployment of a spouse, child or parent, or to care for an immediate family member who is injured while on duty. Additional provisions may apply. 

In addition to ensuring an employee isn’t fired for taking time off under these circumstances, eligible employers are also required to continue the employee’s healthcare benefits during FMLA leave. Note, however, that employees are still required to pay any portion of premiums that they ordinarily would during this time.

FMLA Eligibility Requirements for Businesses

As is true with many government regulations, FMLA eligibility requirements aren’t always cut-and-dried. Some businesses have two FMLA laws to consider: federal and state. Some states (including Wisconsin) have their own rules, and whichever is most beneficial to the employee is the one that must be followed.

Federal law requires the following:

  • Employee must have worked for at least 12 months
  • Employee must have worked a minimum of 1,250 hours during that time
  • Employer must have 50 employees within a 75 mile radius

Wisconsin law requires:

  • Eligible employees must work for more than 52 consecutive weeks
  • Eligible employees must have worked a minimum of 1,000 hours during that time
  • The employer must have 50 employees with no radius clause. For example, a company could have 40 employees at its headquarters and another 10 employees at a branch office 100 miles away, making it eligible

Employers need to check with their states’ requirements. Even then, knowing which rules to follow can be very confusing and it’s recommended they consult a Human Resources (HR) expert. 

What if a company doesn’t meet the 50-employee threshold? Even though these smaller employers are not required to offer FMLA or to guarantee employment or benefits if employees take extended leave, it’s considered a best practice to do so. The important consideration is to establish processes and consistently offer the same benefits to every employee. 

Determining Length of Leave for FMLA Based on State Requirements 

If employer eligibility wasn’t confusing enough, the time-off requirements for FMLA also can vary by state. Whereas federal regulations grant up to 12 weeks total unpaid leave per year for various conditions, states can dictate their own requirements. Using Wisconsin as an example again, employees can receive six (6) weeks for maternity leave, two (2) weeks to care for immediate family members and two (2) weeks for personal leave — a total of 10 per year. Once again, stay informed about your specific state’s rules and confirm which requirements apply to your business with an HR professional.

FMLA Best Practices

Keeping track of FMLA for each qualifying employee can be a challenge. However, there are some general guidelines to keep in mind.

  • Leave must be tracked in the same increments that paid time off (PTO) is tracked. So, if you track PTO by the hour, you also need to track FMLA by the hour
  • The length of leave is cumulative and doesn’t need to be taken all at once. An employee may take an hour of leave to bring a loved one to a therapy session, or he or she may take six weeks at a time for maternity leave. Each may qualify, and it stresses the importance of tracking time off for FMLA
  • Be sure to establish the first day of FMLA eligibility and determine a calendar timeframe so employees understand when tracking begins and ends
  • While the law doesn’t require employees to notify an employer about taking leave in a formal way, companies should establish processes and make employees aware of them
  • When foreseeable, as is often the case for maternity leave or planned medical procedures, employees should give 30 days notice. When unforeseeable, they must give notice the same day or next business day
  • When an employee requests FMLA, provide him or her with a Notice of Eligibility and Rights and Responsibilities Form. This form indicates the reasons for leave and eligibility criteria and can serve as documentation of approval or denial
  • Employers must respond to an employee’s FMLA request within 5 days 

There are many more FMLA considerations, and scenarios that may or may not qualify. Most important for employers is to develop internal processes to ensure consistency and compliance. Accurate tracking is imperative and is best done through robust HR software – and guidance from an HR expert familiar with your state’s specific requirements and considerations.

Knowing what types of requests qualify for FMLA can be tricky, and addressing potential misuse is a challenge, especially without proper documentation. If your company has 50 or more employees and is struggling to identify FMLA requirements, download our Workplace Compliance Requirements Guide  below or reach out to the experienced HR team at McClone to help you understand the complexities of this law. 

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A collection of articles from the McClone team with the helpful knowledge and insights to ensure your organization is well protected.