Protecting Your Job When You Are Sick or a Family Member Is Sick

Updated on June 10, 2020
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Cara-Noelle is a HR professional and has been working in human resources for 20 years. She holds a Master's degree in HR Management.

What Is FMLA?

"Fim-lah"? What is FMLA? FMLA stands for the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. This act enables eligible employees of covered employers to have job protection when they need to take time away from work for either their own serious health condition, a qualifying family member's serious health condition, as well as for bonding with a child, or for military deployment. Already confused? Don't be, read on.


Covered Employers

FMLA only applies to employers who meet specific criteria. So, who are covered employers?

Covered employers are:

Private-sector employers who have at least 50 employees during at least 20 workweeks in the current or immediately previous calendar year.

Public agencies such as local, state, or Federal Government agencies, and public and private elementary and secondary schools regardless of their number of employees.

Eligible Employees

As previously stated, only eligible employees are entitled to take FMLA leave from work. So who are eligible employees?

To be an eligible employee, you must meet the following criteria:

First, you must be employer by a covered employer (which we already covered, so yay!) and work at a location where your employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles.

You must have worked for your employer for at least 12 months and have worked at least 1,250 hours for your employer during the 12 months that are immediately preceding your leave request.

Have you ever been disciplined at work for calling in sick due to a chronic condition?

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Qualifying Family Members

So, who are qualifying family members? How does a family member become qualified? Who deems my family as qualified? Don't worry, the Federal Government defined that too!

Qualifying Family Members are an eligible employee’s child, parent, or spouse with a serious health condition.

Who qualifies as a child? A biological, foster, or adopted child.

Who qualifies as a parent? This one is a little trickier; it is your biological or legal parents as well as a family member who stood in place of your parent or in loco parentis.

"Spouse" covers both same- and opposite-sex spouses.

Yay! So that's it, you've got it all, right? Wrong!

Serious Health Condition

You keep seeing the term serious health condition, so what is a serious health condition? Doctors may say this is only for very serious illnesses, such as terminal illnesses. However, the government has a more broad definition.

A serious health condition is an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition which may result in one of the following:

  • Requires an overnight stay at a hospital or other medical facility.
  • Results in an incapacity of four or more consecutive calendar days with the need for follow up care.
  • Chronic conditions requiring ongoing care by a health care provider.
  • Incapacity for pregnancy or prenatal care.
  • Permanent and long-term medical conditions.
  • Treatment for substance abuse.


Great, so what does this protection entitle me to?

Well, firstly it requires that employees be restored to the same job once returning from the leave, or one nearly identical to it (in nearly all cases). This includes protecting your schedule, pay rate and work location.

While out on FMLA leave, employers are required to continue health insurance coverage as if the employee was not on leave (not increase premiums or terminate coverage).

And employers cannot retaliate against you for using or trying to use FMLA leave.

This means time you take off from work which is protected by FMLA cannot be used against you when doing attendance audits.

Is That All?

No! This is just a brief summary to try to bring it all together and help you better understand what FMLA is, who is eligible and what it protects you from.

FMLA is a complex beast with many parts. I will write more articles about it delving into some of the more complex areas in depth. This is just a general overview meant to help you better understand what it is.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


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