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Federal vs. State Family and Medical Leave Laws

The Federal vs. State Family and Medical Leave laws comparison charts are being updated to reflect the new federal FMLA Final Rule, effective January 16, 2009. To review information about individual state family and medical leave laws, please check the following state Web pages with similar statutes: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin and the District of Columbia. For more resources and information on these laws, please visit FindLaw's Family and Medical Leave Laws by State page.

State Leave Laws: Overview

Where state laws do exist on family and medical leave, it should be noted that covered employers must comply with state family and medical leave laws that provide more protections than the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). That said, existing state laws vary widely as far as how, and to whom, they apply.

Here are some of the different types of laws that may apply to provide time off from work, or benefits, in situations where a qualifying employee seeks leave:

  • paid family or sick leave laws - a small number of states have passed laws allowing for certain employees to take paid leave under specific circumstances, such as pregnancy leave;
  • unpaid leave laws supplementing the FMLA - a number of states have laws that mirror or supplement the FMLA in many ways, but sometimes differ in details such as the range of covered employers and workers, the amount of time off provided, and the notice requirements;
  • state disability laws - a number of states have disability laws that supplement federal disability laws and provide for specific benefits for qualifying individuals;
  • pregnancy, birth, or adoption-related family leave laws - some states have specific family leave laws that apply in situations related to the birth or adoption of a child;
  • workers' compensation - state workers' compensation laws may provide benefits for workers injured on the job

The interplay between the types of laws listed above can be complicated for both employers and employees, and while some of the aspects relating to time off allowed under different family and medical leave laws are covered below, specific inquiries may best be directed to a local attorney specializing in employment law.

When Federal and State Leave Laws Mix

In states that do have their own laws on taking time off from work, there can be a daunting number of ways that state and federal leave laws can stack up for employees. On the bright side, employees have no duty to specify which type of leave they are requesting, much less the specific law that applies to it. Actually, employers have the responsibility to apply whichever laws, or parts of laws, provide the greatest protections to their employees. Still, it is a good idea to be informed about both your rights and responsibilities under applicable leave laws. Here are some basic guidelines and scenarios on how federal and state leave laws interact.

No State Leave Laws

In states that do not have their own leave laws, the federal FMLA may apply to employees seeking medical or family time off. However, the FMLA applies only to specific types and sizes of employers, and outlines a number of rights and responsibilities for qualifying employees. At the same time, the FMLA imposes a number of duties on employers, ranging from notice requirements to restoring employees on FMLA leave to their original or equivalent position.

    >> FMLA Leave Law: In-Depth

State Laws With Expanded Leave Provisions

A number of states have fashioned leave laws that apply in ways similar to the federal FMLA law. Typically the main questions relating to how these types of laws interact involve: 1) the total amount of leave an employee may take off; 2) the notice requirements imposed on employees and employers; and 3) certification requirements with respect to leave.

When an employee's leave is covered by both state and federal leave laws, then an employee's leave will count against the time off allowed under both laws. But sometimes employees may be entitled to use state and FMLA leave periods separately instead of exhausting them both at the same time. However, if the employee qualifies for leave under only one set of laws, then only that allowed time will be used.

With respect to the notice and certification requirements, the bottom line is that when both state and federal leave laws apply, the employer must follow whichever notice or certification rule provides the employees the most benefit. For example, if a state law requires less advance notice for leave than the FMLA, then the state notice requirement will apply.

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