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Employees should investigate before assuming they can take FMLA

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was developed to give eligible employees unpaid, job-protected leave to resolve specified medical or family issues. Even though the employee is not being paid while on FMLA, he or she has peace of mind knowing that his or her job will be available upon return. It is crucial to remember, however, that both employees and employers must meet certain criteria even before FMLA is an option.

Many employees assume that leave is an option and plan their future accordingly. Whether dealing with an ailing loved one, a pregnancy or a personal health issue, many employees take comfort in the fact that their job will be waiting for them when they are ready to return. This, unfortunately, is not always the case. If you are unclear, it is wise to verify your eligibility by reviewing the DOL's FMLA Fact Sheet.

While an employee typically has a vague understanding that he or she must meet eligibility requirements in order to claim government benefits, employers must also meet certain criteria. If you work for a public agency, or a public or private school, your employer is likely eligible to offer you FMLA. However, if you work for a private-sector company, the criteria are more complex. From the FMLA Fact Sheet:

"A covered employer is a private-sector employer, with 50 or more employees in 20 or more workweeks in the current or pending calendar year, including a joint employer or successor in interests to a covered employer."

An eligible employee must work for a covered employer for at least 12 months and have at least 1,250 hours of service for the employer during the 12 month period immediately preceding the leave. Additionally, the employer must work at a location that has at least 50 employees operating within 75 miles of the organization.

If you are concerned that your eligibility is not being recognized by your employer, or you were terminated while on FMLA, an employment attorney should be your first call to learn more about your rights.

Source: United States Department of Labor. "Fact Sheet #28: The Family and Medical Leave Act." Accessed 12/10/14.

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