People Operations | Management

Family and Medical Leave Act  

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that provides certain employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year. It also requires that their group health benefits be maintained during the leave.


FMLA is designed to help employees balance their work and family responsibilities by allowing them to take reasonable unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons. It also seeks to accommodate the legitimate interests of employers and promote equal employment opportunity for men and women.


FMLA applies to all public agencies, all public and private elementary and secondary schools, and companies with 50 or more employees. These employers must provide an eligible employee with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year for any of the following reasons:  

    • Birth and care of a newborn child of an employee. 
    • Placement of a child with the employee for adoption or foster care. 
    • Care for an immediate family member (spouse, child or parent) who has a serious health condition.
    •  Medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition. 

Employees are eligible for leave if they have worked for their employer at least 12 months, at least 1,250hours during the past 12 months and work at a location where the company employs 50 or more people within 75 miles. Whether an employee has worked the minimum 1,250 hours of service is determined according to Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) principles for determining compensable hours or work.


Time taken off work due to pregnancy complications can be counted against the 12 weeks of family and medical leave.  


A final rule effective on Jan. 16, 2009, updated the FMLA regulations to implement new military family leave entitlements enacted under the National Defense Authorization Act.  


Additionally, on June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court, in United States v. Windsor, foundunconstitutional Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which hadprohibited the federal government from acknowledging marriages between same-sex couples. Ina related case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, the court ruled that those challenging a California statecourt decision that made same-sex marriage legal in California (by overturning a state ballotinitiative known as Proposition 8) lacked standing to do so—a finding that restored legal samesexmarriage in the state. As a result of the Windsor ruling, employees in the state of Californiaare now entitled to take family and medical leave to care for an ill same-sex spouse. Children of same-sex spouses are stepchildren of the non-natural parent now, so the employee can certainly take FMLA leave for their care, as well.  


Prior to the Windsor decision, when DOMA was in place, the FMLA did not provide this type of leave to same-sex spouses. Since the two types of leave could not run concurrently an employee could potentially take 12 weeks under the state law to care for his or her same-sex spouse and take another 12 weeks of FMLA leave to care for his or her own serious health condition. These leaves can now be used simultaneously, since same-sex spouses are now recognized under FMLA regulations as spouses entitled to family and medical leave in states where same-sexcouples are legally recognized.