There are many reasons why an employee might request a leave of absence.
But under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), some of those reasons carry the weight of law behind them. If both the employer and the employee are eligible for FMLA coverage, the worker may be entitled to an unpaid, twelve-week leave of absence whether the employer wants to give it to them or not.
To be eligible for a FMLA leave, the employer must first qualify for coverage. In addition to all public agencies, business employers with more than 50 employees for more than 20 weeks per year are required to provide FMLA leaves to qualifying workers. The 50-employee threshold applies to any employees located within 75 miles of the worker's location. Additionally, employees must have worked for the company for at least 12 months (non-contiguous) and posted at least 1,250 hours during the previous twelve months.
If both the employer and employee criteria are met, the worker qualifies for a twelve-week, unpaid leave. However, the reason for the leave is limited to a handful of specific circumstances and life events.
- Parental leave. Parents of newborn children are permitted to take a twelve-week FMLA leave to care for their child, within one year of the child's birth. Likewise, adoptive parents are granted the same rights following the adoption of a child, also within one year of the child's placement with the family.
- Family medical care. Employees are allowed to take FMLA leave to care for an immediate family member who is suffering from a serious illness or health condition. For FMLA purposes, immediate family members include a spouse, child, or parent.
- Personal medical care. Workers can take a qualified leave for personal medical reasons, as well. If the employee suffers from a serious health condition, she is permitted twelve weeks of unpaid leave – but at the end of the leave, she will be expected to either return to work or leave the company.
- Qualifying exigencies. Covered employees can take a leave for what is described as a "qualifying exigency" related to the deployment (or pending deployment) of a spouse, child, or parent for active military duty in the National Guard or Reserves. The stipulation is that the deployment must be in support of a contingency operation.
- Military caregivers. Military caregivers receive special treatment under FMLA. A spouse, child, parent, or next of kin for a serious injured or ill service member is entitled to an FMLA leave. But instead of a twelve-week leave, these individuals are entitled to as much as twenty-six weeks of FMLA leave.