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An HR Pro Explains the Family Medical Leave Act

January 22, 2019

Hearing the words Family Medical Leave Act is enough to freeze the blood of the most hardened executive.

How long will this person be gone? What are my responsibilities to them? How much leave do they get? Do I have to keep paying them? There are so many rules and regulations that it can be hard to know exactly what to do.

In this episode of Healthcare Simplified, we are joined by Sandy Krauer, a human resources consultant with Total Focus HR Solutions, an Allegeant company. Sandy is an expert in FMLA issues and she offers some simple tips on figuring out:

  • if your company has to offer leave,

  • which of your employees are eligible to take leave, and

  • how to calculate leave time.

What is FMLA?

FMLA stands for Family Medical Leave Act and was enacted in 1993 by the federal government. As you know, employees are quite diverse. At times, it can be difficult to balance work and life responsibilities.

To help with this rising problem, FMLA was created to allow employees to take unpaid leave for qualifying reasons with the security of knowing they will not lose their job. Sandy says that “FMLA is really just an umbrella that provides protection, job protection, for leave that you may take whether its paid-leave, unpaid leave, workers comp., or short term disability."

FMLA can cover many types of leave such as:

  • the birth and/or care of a child of the employee,

  • being placed with a child through adoption or foster care,

  • taking care of a family member with a serious medical condition,

  • or when the employee has a serious medical condition and cannot work.

As an employer: What should we consider when implementing FMLA?

There are many rules and regulations that come with FMLA and it can be hard for employers to navigate through it all and make sure that they are covering everything that needs to be covered. This is why we asked Sandy to talk to us about some main questions that employers should make sure are answered when considering FMLA.

How will our company track the 12 month period?

While you must offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave to your eligible employees during a 12-month period, there is some flexibility for the employer on how the 12-month period will be calculated. There are four options identified in the FMLA regulations.

You can base the 12-month period on a calendar year or fiscal year. Or, you can base it on the 12-month period looking back, or looking forward, from the date that the employee first starts the leave under FMLA.

It is important for the company to choose one method of calculating the 12-month period and then communicate that to employees in a written FMLA policy. If an employer does not implement a set method, each employee will be able to choose how they would like to track the 12-month period, so they would certainly pick the method that best suits their needs. This would certainly create an administrative nightmare for the employer.

When should FMLA be offered to our employees?

When an employee requests time off from work for any reason that may indicate an FMLA qualifying reason, the employer has the regulatory obligation to provide the employee with a written notice of rights and responsibilities under the FMLA. The employer may at that time request additional information, if needed, to be able to determine whether the leave request reason does qualify for FMLA job protection.

When is our company required to offer FMLA?

Any company that has at least 50 employees working in the U.S. for at least 20 weeks in the current or previous year is an FMLA-covered employer. There are some additional considerations as to whether all employees of an FMLA-covered Employer are eligible for FMLA.

For example, although an employer may be an FMLA-covered employer, this does not mean that all of the employer’s work-sites are FMLA-covered work-sites. For example, an employer with 80 employees would be an FMLA-covered employer. However, if that employer has 2 separate work sites that are more than 75 miles apart, only a work-site with at least 50 employees would be an FMLA-covered work-site. Any work-site that does not have at least 50 employees working at work-sites within 75 miles of each other would not be an FMLA-covered work-site, and those employees would not be eligible for FMLA.

It is also important to remember that if you have work-sites in multiple states, that you must consider any state-specific FMLA laws. Many states, and including Washington D.C., have their own FMLA laws that must be followed in conjunction with the federal FMLA law. In some instances, an employer may not be a federal FMLA-covered employer but may be a state law FMLA-covered employer and would need to offer the state FMLA requirements to employees working in that state.

Which of our employees are eligible for FMLA?

If an employee works for an FMLA-covered employer, then there are requirements for employee eligibility as well. First, the employee must have worked for the company for at least 12 months (this does not have to be consecutive months). Second, they must have worked for this employer for at least 1250 hours in the last 12 months. Last, they must work at a work-site that is covered under FMLA (this can include part-time employees).

Sometimes it can be hard to know which employees qualify for FMLA when some or most of your employees work off-site. However, this is not as complicated as it sounds. These employees would be eligible if they meet the above requirements and if their main work site (whatever office they check in to) qualifies for FMLA.

How does FMLA work with our "Key Employees"?

Since a “Key Employee” is an employee in the top 10% of wage earners for your company, it may be too hard on the company financially to keep that job empty for an extended period of time. For this reason, FMLA regulations allow that when one of your "key employees" takes an extended leave of absence that qualifies as FMLA, the employer is not required to provide the job-protection guarantee to a key employee.

As an employee: What am I entitled to

under FMLA?

Under the federal FMLA, qualifying employees are provided with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave within a 12-month period. If your leave is qualified under FMLA then your job will be secure during the entire leave period. When you return to work, you will then be returned to the same or a similar job, at the same pay and benefits, as long as you are not deemed a "Key Employee" as explained earlier.

This is why using FMLA is so important because it gives you job security and alleviates the stress of wondering if you will still have a job when your leave of absence ends.

Another important aspect of FMLA that you need to remember is that health benefits will still be continued while you are on leave. However, you must still pay your portion of the premium in order to continue your benefits during this time.

As the employee taking leave covered under FMLA, you have the option of "pausing" your health benefits for the period that you are on leave and then "restart" the benefits once you are back at work. Employers, however, must continue to cover the employee under the same health benefits that the employee was covered while working.

Have a question for Sandy?

Send us an email at


​This post is based on a podcast interview with Sandy Krauer from Total Focus HR. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Healthcare Simplified by clicking here. If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode by clicking here.

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