The Family Medical Leave Act, better known as the FMLA, is an act that President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1993 as one of his first acts as President. This act ensures that employees can get time off after having a child or while dealing with an ill loved one. As an HR manager or director, you must understand certain aspects of this act that might impact your employees or your company.

Why Can Workers Take Time Off?

According to the United States Department of Labor, the Family Medical Leave Act allows workers to take time off after having a baby, adopting a child or becoming a foster parent. It also gives them the right to take time off after a spouse, parent or child suffers a serious medical problem. The act also applies to employees themselves and allows those workers to take off to care for themselves. Companies face stiff fines for firing employees for taking time off covered under this act.

Length of Time

The maximum amount of time that an employee can take off is 12 weeks. When taking time off because a female employee had a child or a male employee’s wife just had a child, the law lets those workers take 12 weeks off during the one year following the child’s birth. The act also gives employees up to a year after adopting a child or becoming a foster parent to take time off work. If an employee adopts and brings home a new child in March, you cannot legally prevent that employee for requesting time off later in the year.

Covering Eligible Workers

The Family Medical Leave Act requires that employers provide employees with all the same benefits during their time off that they would receive while working. If a worker has health insurance, employers cannot legally stop that individual’s healthcare coverage or make changes to an existing policy. The act also forbids employers from punishing workers for taking time off. A company cannot change an employee’s job title, reduce his or her hours to work or make changes to the duties that the worker must do once the individual comes back to work.

Non-Eligible Employees

Though this law covers a large number of workers, it does not cover all employees. It does not apply to any company that has 50 or fewer employees, and it does not cover anyone working on a part-time basis. Unless the individual worked 1,250 hours or more in the last 12 months, the employer can claim the individual is a part-time employee and can prohibit his or her from taking time off. The act also does not apply to those taking time off to care for someone who is not a parent, spouse or child or those suffering from short-term medical conditions.

Caring for Themselves

While many people think that the Family Medical Leave Act only applies to the time that workers take off to care for family members, it also applies to the time they take off to care for themselves. Employers may legally request time off to visit doctors or specialists, for treatments they need and to cope with symptoms they experience. A pregnant woman has the legal right to come in late or take a day off because of a serious bout of morning sickness, and a worker diagnosed with cancer may need time off for chemotherapy and other treatments.

The FMLA is a law that impacts what employees can do and how much time they can take off when dealing with an illness or a new child. As a manager or director, you must have a clear understanding of what the Family Medical Leave Act covers.