The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that applies in all states, including Indiana. It requires that certain employers allow qualified employees to take unpaid time off work in specified circumstances. These include welcoming a new child or caring for a family member who has a serious medical condition. The Indiana Department of Labor has implemented Family and Medical Leave regulations in compliance with the federal guidelines.
What Is the FMLA?
The Family and Medical Leave Act is a federal law that allows employees to take up to 12 weeks a year of unpaid leave. The FMLA leave is available if employees or members of their family have personal medical or health issues that are among those specified in the federal law. The employer must allow the employee to return to work in the same or an equivalent position after this leave. Also, the employee's health insurance benefits must remain active during the leave.
An employer can opt to pay the employee for their FMLA leave, but there is no requirement in the federal law that they must do so. The employer also is permitted to allow a second 12 weeks of leave after the initial 12-week period. Again, this is not mandatory, but optional.
Eligibility for FMLA
The FMLA applies only to employers with 50 or more employees. Smaller enterprises are not included. And employees must meet certain work minimums to qualify. They must have worked for the employer for at least 12 months, though they need not have worked those months consecutively. The employee also must have worked a minimum of 1,250 hours during the 12-month period of employment.
Reasons for FMLA Leave
An eligible employee can apply for FMLA leave when they need time off for certain situations. These include:
- Childbirth, adoption or foster care to allow the care of a new child.
- Recuperation from a serious health condition.
- Caring for a family member with a serious health condition.
- Exigencies that arise from a family member's military service.
- Caring for a family member who suffered a serious injury during active duty in the military.
FMLA for Medical Reasons
The FMLA is available when the employee has a serious health condition or they are caring for a family member with one. What is a serious health condition under the law? A condition is clearly serious if any of these conditions are met:
- Employee or family member has to be hospitalized overnight.
- Employee or family member needs continuing treatment by a doctor and requires three or more days off from work.
- Condition causes incapacity because it is chronic and requires periodic treatment over an extended period of time.
- Condition causes incapacity that is permanent or long-term and for which there may not be effective treatment.
Covered Employers and Circumstances
Employers covered under the FMLA rules must approve a leave of up to 12 weeks for qualifying employees for specific circumstances, such as childbirth and the subsequent care of the newborn baby of the employee. According to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, placement of a child with the employee for foster care or adoption also qualifies employees for FMLA. Additional circumstances include the employee caring for a spouse, parent or child with a serious medical condition. If an employee is not able to work due to a medical condition, they will be approved for medical leave.
The law defines serious medical conditions as involving inpatient care, chronic medical conditions that require treatment, pregnancy, multiple treatments for a condition that is not chronic or the treatment for a permanent long-term medical condition.
Employee Rights to Reinstatement
Leave under the FMLA is not required paid leave. The employee may apply any paid-time-off leave that they have accrued toward the time off, but to the extent the weeks of leave exceed the individual's accrued paid-time-off leave, they must go without pay for the period. Since an employee could simply take the time off anyway without pay, how do the FMLA rights benefit the employee?
The primary benefit that employees enjoy from the FMLA is that they are assured the right to reinstatement when the leave is done. If they simply don't come to work for 12 weeks, the odds are not great that the employer will save their job for them. However, under the FMLA, the employer is required to reinstate the worker. If their old job is unavailable when they return, the employer must give them an equivalent position.
In addition, by taking FMLA leave, workers have the right to continue their health insurance while on leave. The cost during the leave must be the same as the amount they pay for health insurance while working.
Benefits for Military Personnel
As initially enacted, the FMLA did not provide special benefits to military personnel, but it has been amended to do so. Currently the law provides 26 weeks of leave every year for an employee to care for a service member with a serious injury or illness. The employee seeking the leave must be the service member’s spouse, son, daughter, parent or next of kin. This is known as Military Caregiver Leave.
Indiana has enacted its own law to assist with leave for ill or injured service members called the Qualifying Exigency Leave Act. It opens up the 12-week FMLA leave benefits to employees who have family members in the Army Reserves or National Guard, if that family member is on active duty or called for active duty for 90 days or more.
Under Indiana law, companies who have at least 50 employees must allow eligible employees to take up to 10 days of leave per year for military family reasons. These include taking leave during the 30 days before the family member's active duty orders are in effect, while the family member is on leave during active duty, or during the 30 days after the family member's active duty orders are terminated. To be eligible for military family leave, an employee must be the spouse, parent, grandparent or sibling of the Army Reserves or National Guard.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.