Know Your Rights at Work:
Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)


Employees, families, and businesses benefit from workplace policies that allow employees to balance their personal obligations and job responsibilities. Employees receive increased job security and a consistent income, family members receive the care they need, and businesses are able to reduce staff turnover, which can lower recruitment and training costs as well as improve workers’ productivity. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year for certain serious health conditions or family obligations without professional retaliation.

Although FMLA has been law for more than 20 years, many employers still don’t understand its requirements, and some workers still face retaliation for taking FMLA leave. If you have questions about FMLA leave, this resource will help get you started.

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What benefits does the Family and Medical Leave Act provide for covered employees?

Under FMLA, covered employees are eligible to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year following the birth or adoption of child, to recover from a serious health condition, or to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition. FMLA also requires covered employers to maintain an employee’s health insurance while the employee is on FMLA leave and prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who take FMLA leave. Covered employers must also restore an employee to the same or a similar job when the employee returns from FMLA leave.

Military families may be eligible for additional leave.

Am I eligible to take FMLA leave?

In order to be eligible for FMLA leave, both the employee and her or his employer must meet certain requirements. Generally, only businesses and organizations with more than 50 employees are required to provide FMLA leave. Additionally, an employee must have worked for her or his employer for at least 12 months in order to be eligible.

Some types of workers must meet special requirements to qualify for FMLA leave. You can find more detailed information from the U.S. Department of Labor.

What qualifies as a “serious health condition” under the FMLA?

These are some examples of serious health conditions that may qualify for FMLA leave:

  • conditions requiring an overnight stay in a hospital or other medical care facility,
  • conditions that incapacitate you or your family member (for example, unable to work or attend school) for more than three consecutive days and have ongoing medical treatment (either multiple appointments with a health care provider or a single appointment and follow-up care, such as prescription medication),
  • chronic conditions that cause occasional periods when you or your family member are incapacitated and require treatment by a health care provider at least twice a year, and
  • pregnancy (including prenatal medical appointments, incapacity due to morning sickness, and medically required bed rest).

Will I be paid while I am on FMLA leave?

Probably not. While state governments and individual employers can make paid family or medical leave available, the FMLA only requires employers to provide unpaid leave. Several states and the District of Columbia provide additional leave or paid leave on top of FMLA leave.

Can my employer fire me, demote me, or change my job because I took FMLA leave?

Generally, no. FMLA prohibits employers from retaliating against an employee who takes leave, and it requires employers to restore an employee to the same or a similar job upon her or his return. Employers may be able to move a returning employee to a different position but only if that position provides equivalent pay, benefits, and other employment terms as the employee’s previous job.

Do I have to notify my employer before I take FMLA leave?

Generally, yes. An employee must tell the employer at least 30 days before taking FMLA leave if the leave is foreseeable (such as birth or adoption of a child, a planned medical procedure, or planned treatment for a serious health condition). If it is not possible to give 30 days’ notice, then an employee must give notice as soon as it is possible and practical, which usually means within one or two business days of the employee learning of her or his need for leave.

Whenever an employee is able to give advance notice of need to take FMLA leave, the employee must follow the employer’s notification policy and must provide at least one verbal notice of the need for the leave, the anticipated time frame, and expected duration.

I think my employer may have violated my rights under FMLA. What can I do?

FMLA is enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor. If you feel that your rights to FMLA leave have been denied, you can file a complaint with your local office of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.

You may also file a private civil lawsuit against an employer for violations; an employee is not required to file a complaint with the Wage and Hour Division first. Lawsuits generally must be filed within two years of the FMLA violation.



How AAUW Members Helped Get the FMLA Passed

AAUW members spent years lobbying Congress to get these crucial family leave protections.

Why Work-Life Balance Matters

Find out why AAUW cares so much about work-life balance and what you can do.

Paid Family and Medical Leave: Why We Need It

While FMLA was a huge success, many workers can’t afford to take leave because it’s unpaid.