With demands from your paid job and simultaneously unpaid family caregiving, no day is long enough.
You want time off from work to focus on family responsibilities, but you don’t want to lose your job. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) might be the answer to your dilemma, but most Americans aren’t familiar with the ins and outs of the law.
FMLA, enacted in 1993, offers qualifying workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave annually for illness, the birth of a child or caring for a sick loved one. The version of President Biden's Build Back Better bill approved Nov. 19 by the U.S. House of Representatives would provide four weeks a year of paid leave for those causes and cover far more workers.
Pending final action on Build Back Better, which is awaiting a Senate vote, FMLA remains the last federal word on family leave. Here’s are some key questions and answers to help you find your way through the law's provisions and open a conversation with your supervisor about taking time off for caregiving.
Family and Medical Leave Act eligibility
Does the law cover everyone?
No. Eligibility depends on the size of your employer and how long you've worked there. The law doesn’t cover more than 40 percent of the U.S. workforce.
Paid family leave available
in some states
As of November 2021, six states and the District of Columbia had provisions for employees to receive paid time off for caregiving and three more states had such programs pending.
• California, benefits available
• Colorado, benefits begin Jan. 1, 2024
• Connecticut, benefits begin Jan. 1, 2022
• District of Columbia, benefits available
• Massachusetts, benefits available
• New Jersey, benefits available
• New York, benefits available
• Oregon, benefits begin Sept. 1, 2023
• Rhode Island, benefits available
• Washington, benefits available
How can I tell if my employer falls under FMLA?
The law covers these workplaces:
- Private-sector companies that have 50 or more employees working within a 75-mile radius of the office or facility to which they report. That must have been the case for at least 20 weeks in the current or previous calendar year for the company to fall under FMLA. If you work at a smaller outpost of a large company, you may not be eligible for family and medical leave even if colleagues at headquarters are.
- Nonprofit organizations are covered under the same rules for staff size and proximity as for-profit businesses.
- All public agencies and schools are covered under FMLA, regardless of the number of people working there.
How do I know whether I’m personally eligible?
As an employee, you must have done the following:
- Worked at least 12 months for an employer covered under the law
- Worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to taking leave