FMLA eligibility is primarily determined at the time that leave is to begin. Generally, when employee work demands collide with family responsibilities -- often forcing the employee to take time off from work to handle their personal and medical obligations -- the employee may be eligible for FMLA if he or she has worked for the same employer for at least 12 months.
Under FMLA, eligible employees are entitled a total of up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period with job reinstatement privileges. As such, employers must return the employee to the same or equivalent job position at the conclusion of any FMLA leave.
FMLA Eligibility Requirements -- Who is Covered?
FMLA leave is not available to every employee. FMLA eligibility requires the following criteria:
- The employee must have been employed with the company for 12 months
- The employee must have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to the start of FMLA leave
- The employer is one who employs 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius of the worksite
FMLA Eligible Leave -- What is Covered?
The purpose of FMLA is to provide a means for families to balance both work and medical or personal needs without sacrificing their job security. An employee may request FMLA for any of the following:
- To prepare for the birth of a son or daughter
- To care for a newborn child
- For adoption or foster care placement of a son or daughter
- To care for a spouse, son, daughter, or parent with a serious health condition
- To take care of the employees own serious health condition
- To transition employees or spouses who are called to active duty
Note that medical certification may be required in some cases where serious health conditions may prevent an employee from performing their essential job functions.
12-Months of Employment
To qualify for FMLA, an employee's 12 months of employment need not be consecutive. However, breaks in service of seven years or more are not counted toward an employee's years of service unless the break was based on an employee's military obligations or written agreement.
1,250 Hours of Service
For purposes of determining FMLA eligibility, "hours of service" means hours that the employee has actually worked. This does not include vacations, holidays, sick days, or other situations where an employee was away from work (whether paid or unpaid). In addition, the 1250-hour requirement must be met within the 12-month period before the start of leave.
50 Employees within a 75 Mile Radius
Private sector employers are required to employ 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius each working day during the preceding calendar year for FMLA eligibility. On the other hand, public agencies (such as state and federal governments) are not held to the "50 employee" rule, and most federal employees are eligible for FMLA.
Even if employees at a company's large headquarters are eligible for FMLA, employees at a smaller, remote location might not be eligible if the smaller location does not include at least 50 employees within the 75-mile radius.
FMLA Eligibility Notice
Employers are required to give FMLA eligibility notice after requests for FMLA leave or knowledge of qualifying reasons for leave within five business days.
Alternative FMLA Leave Options
Employers who need time off for medical reasons but who are not covered by FMLA should discuss alternative forms of leave with their employer. In some cases, employers may grant unpaid time off at their discretion based on the needs of the business.
Sometimes an employee may also use vacation or sick time as an alternative if FMLA is not an option, or may consider taking short-term or long-term disability if offered through the employer. Check with your manager or Human Resources department for your company's policies on other forms of leave.
Getting Legal Help
If, after speaking with your manager or Human Resources department, you need help determining your FMLA eligibility or reasons for denial, you may wish to speak with an employment lawyer experienced in FMLA-related matters.