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Family and Medical Leave Act Basics

As school district employees, you are covered by several federal employment laws designed to protect you from undue loss of employment or discrimination on a variety of bases. One of the federal leave laws designed to assist working families is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Among Congress's stated purposes in adopting the FMLA were: "to balance the demands of the workplace with the needs of families, to promote the stability and economic security of families, and to promote national interests in preserving family integrity; ... [and to accomplish these purposes] in a manner that ac­commodates the legitimate interests of employers."

The FMLA permits qualified employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period for one or a combina­tion of the following reasons:

  • For the birth of a child and to care for that child;

  • For the placement of an adopted child or foster child;

  • To care for a family member with a serious health condition, including the spouse, son, daughter or parent of the employee;

  • When the employee is unable to work due to the employee's own serious health condition; or

  • New provision: An eligible employee who is the spouse, son, daughter, parent or next of kin of a covered service member shall be entitled to a total of 26 work­weeks of leave during a 12-month period to care for the service member.

  • The employer determines if the reason is an FMLA-qualifying event.

In order to be eligible for leave under the FMLA, an employee:
  • must have been employed for at least 12 months by the employer of whom the leave request is made; and

  • must have worked at least 1,250 hours for that employer during the previous 12-month period.

Leave for the birth and care of a child or for the placement of an adopted or foster child must be used within 12 months after the child's birth date or an adopted or foster child's placement date. Spouses who work for the same employer are limited to a combined total of 12 weeks during the 12-month period to use leave related to the birth and care or placement of a child.

During a 12-month period, an eligible employee under the two new service-member applications is entitled to a combined total of 26 workweeks.

Under FMLA, upon your return from a qualified period of leave, your employer must return you to the same position you held before taking the leave or to an "equivalent position" as it relates to pay, benefits and other terms of employment. In addition, for employees who have group health-insurance coverage, employers must continue to maintain the coverage on the same terms while an employee is on qualified FMLA leave. However, if at the end of a period of qualified leave, the employee chooses not to return to work, even though he or she is able, the em­ployer is entitled to be repaid for insurance premiums it has paid for the entire leave period.

The Act gives employers some flexibility in how they administer FMLA leave. For instance, although FMLA leave is unpaid leave, an employer may, by published policy, permit or require employees to use or apply any applicable paid leave as part of the 12-week period. In addition, employ­ers may elect one of several methods for determining the 12-month period within which leave may be taken, but that election must be published in the employer's policy or provided in written form to employees.

If the policy is not properly published, employees may use the method that is most favorable to them in calculating the amount of leave they may take. Thus, our standard mantra rings true: Check your local school-board policy to see how your district's FMLA policy is administered.

For more detailed information regarding the Family and Medical Leave Act, check the U.S. Department of Labor information page here.

If you have a specific situation with which you need assistance, please contact NWPE at (800) 380-6973.

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