Doug Bonney

I’ve received quite a few phone calls from people asking about family and medical leave. So, in this leaflet, I will describe a workers right to leave under the Family & Medical Leave Act, which Congress passed in 1993.

First, I want to make it clear that there are no state laws in either Kansas or Missouri that generally require private employers to provide family or medical leave. There are laws that grant leave to some government employees, but those laws do not apply to employees of private businesses. The Family & Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, is the only law that requires some larger private employers in Kansas and Missouri, and throughout the nation, to give their employees leave.

The FMLA sets a floor, not a ceiling. So, a covered employer can grant benefits greater than what the FMLA requires, but a covered employer cannot go below the FMLA’s leave requirements. Because the FMLA sets a floor, Unions should try to expand on the FMLA’s leave benefits in contract negotiations.

Unfortunately, however, the FMLA does not apply to all employers. The law only applies to employers that employ 50 or more employees within 75 miles of the worksite of the employee requesting leave. If you or your members work for a small business, or if you work for a big employer but work at an small, isolated work site, the FMLA doesn’t apply to you.

The FMLA guarantees up to twelve weeks of leave during any 12 month period for eligible employees. Under the law, an employee who has worked for the employer for at least 12 months and who has worked at least 1250 hours during the past 12 months is eligible for FMLA leave benefits. Federal employees are not eligible for FMLA benefits. Entitlement to leave is triggered by four separate types of events so that, upon request by an eligible employee, an employer must grant leave to an employee: (1) who has a baby or needs to care for a newborn (this so—called parental or nurturing leave is available to both mothers and fathers); (2) who adopt a child or become a foster parent; (3) who need to care for a spouse, child, or parent suffering from a serious health condition; or (4) who themselves have a serious health condition that keeps them from working. A serious health condition is generally an illness, injury, or other health problem that requires inpatient care at a hospital, hospice, or other facility, or that requires continuing treatment by a health care provider.

Leave may not be taken intermittently unless it is medically necessary or the employer agrees to allow intermittent leave. The law does not require paid leave beyond what the employer usually provides, but the law requires that the employer continue to pay accrued benefits and group health insurance during the time of the leave. The employer may require the employee to exhaust paid leave before going on unpaid FMLA leave.

The FMLA requires employees to give their employers 30 days notice before going on FMLA leave if the need for the leave is reasonably foreseeable. The law also requires the employee to schedule foreseeable treatment so that it will not unduly disrupt the employer’s operations.

Once an employee returns from an FMLA leave, the employer must restore the employee to his or her regular job or to an equivalent job with the same pay and benefits.

If an employer fails to comply with the FMLA’s requirements, the wronged employee may either file a complaint with the Department of Labor’s Wage & Hour Division or file a lawsuit. The law prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who exercise their rights under the FMLA.