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You may unexpectedly find that you are needed at home to take care of a child, spouse, parent or other family member – or to recover from an illness or operation. Will you be taking FMLA leave? What is it? What should you consider before taking family medical leave?

What is the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)?

The Family Medical Leave Act will allow you to maintain your benefits while on leave for up to 12 weeks as long as you pay your share of the cost.

What are alternatives to taking FMLA leave?

Before you apply for Family Medical Leave, ask whether you employer has a sick leave bank or pool for paid leave. Find out whether taking vacation days or moving to flexible hours or working from home part or all of the time is possible. You may prefer to use one of these options.

If not, and if your employer has more than 50 employees working within a 75 mile radius, it must offer Family Medical Leave. You will be eligible if you have worked for your employer for at least 12 months and for at least 1,250 hours during those months. Employers can choose how they calculate the 12 months: it need not be a calendar year.

Other things to consider before applying under the Family Medical Leave Act:

  • Review the required paperwork and your rights.
  • Find out whether your employer considers this leave concurrent with or separate from short-term disability, workers’ compensation, paid family leave, paid time off or vacation.
  • Learn whether your employer offers extended leave benefits beyond the 12 weeks.
  • Determine how your employer calculates leave:
    • by the day?
    • By the hour?
    • By the minute?
  • Clarify how taking leave will affect your pay and, if you are a highly compensated employee, your right to return to work.

Every job is important. If what you did were not important, you would not be paid for it.

Key employees are among the highest paid 10% of employees, based on both salary and benefits. They can be replaced while on leave. If a key employee wants to return to work at the end of Family Medical Leave, the employer need not make a spot for her. After all, the employer may have needed to replace that key employee to keep the business afloat.

If you do decide to take Family Medical Leave, unless there is an emergency, you must give 30 days notice. There will be many papers for you and the physician to complete. Be thorough. Be sure that the certification says how long the leave should be and, if it is intermittent, how frequent it is. Keep copies. Communicate in writing using the format preferred by your employer.


Elder law attorney, Terry Garrett, is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is an Approved Guardianship Attorney. She assists people in elder law, estate and special needs planning, guardianship and settling estates. She graduated with honors from Cornell University. She was on the Dean’s List at Wharton Business School. She earned her J.D. at Columbia Law School, receiving the Parker Award and a Mellon Fellowship.

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