The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) created a greater balance between the work and home lives of the American workforce.
The idea behind the legislation was to allow workers employed by qualifying businesses to take limited, unpaid leaves to deal with family or health crises.
Overall, FMLA has been a success for workers and employers. Despite inevitable disruptions to the workplace, the effect on employers has been minimal and workers have benefited from the ability to devote attention to their families without fear of losing their jobs.
But many employees and even employers themselves don't realize that some businesses are exempt from FMLA coverage. Recognizing that leaves could place an undue burden on some companies, Congress included provisions that allowed for some businesses to legally refuse a request for an unpaid family or medical leave. As a small business employer, it's particularly important to educate yourself about FMLA qualification requirements.
All public agencies are covered by FMLA, regardless of the size of their workforce. This includes most federal, state, local, and school employers. Additionally, business with more than 50 employees per workday in at least twenty calendar weeks of the current or previous year are also covered under FMLA requirements.
The employee threshold applies to any employees who work within a 75-mile radius of the individual's worksite. In other words, employers can't avoid FMLA by leveraging satellite offices or multi-store locations in a larger geographic area.
Based on the employee threshold, many small business employers are exempt from FMLA. However, as a matter of practice, small business employers typically offer a similar sort of arrangement for their workers during times of medical or family crises. If you choose to offer a modified FMLA benefit, be sure to codify it in a documented employee policy rather than applying it randomly, as situations arise.
Qualifying employers are not required to extend FMLA leaves to non-eligible employees. To qualify for FMLA, employees must have been employed by the company for 12 non-contiguous months and worked at least 1,250 hours over the previous 12 months. Employment that occurred more than seven years before the requested leave are not required to be counted toward the 12 month employment threshold.