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History of FMLA
The Family Medical and Leave Act was enacted into federal law in 1993. This legislation was the government's attempt to prohibit employers from firing employees because of leave time needed due to family medical emergencies.
More young single mothers with children were coming into the work force who had small children. The baby boom generation also had growing concerns trying to care for aging parents. This act was designed to help working families with medical emergencies balance work and family responsibilities.
The law has been updated several times and it contains certain eligibility requirements. With FMLA, you can take time off from work to care for the medical needs of a spouse, child, parent or next of kin.
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FMLA Eligibility Requirements for Employees
To be eligible for FMLA, an employee must work for an employer covered by FMLA, have worked at his place of employment for 12 months, worked a minimum of 1,250 hours during the year, and work for an employer located within the United States or its territories who has a minimum of 50 employees.
Employees who serve in the military under the National Guard or Reserve do not fall under the twelve months of consecutive employment rule. Eligible employees can be granted up to a total of 12 work weeks unpaid leave time. Under special circumstances, an employee may be granted to take up to twelve weeks of FMLA intermittently. For more information about your rights as an employee under FMLA read: Can You Get Fired for Being Sick?
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Sick Time vs. FMLA
The main difference between using sick time vs. FMLA is that sick time is usually “paid leave" time whereas FMLA is time off for medical emergencies without pay. Sick time is normally time allowed to an employee by an employer for the current work year. Most companies will allow you to use your paid sick leave time before beginning FMLA leave. This is an important consideration for employees who have no other source of income other than their salary.
When a family medical emergency arises, the employee should make an appointment with their company's human resource department and discuss the sick time vs. FMLA policy. If you use paid sick leave for a medical condition that is not serious, this time should not be counted against your FMLA.
You should also know that your employer by law may not discriminate against you because of FMLA time used. The employer is required to restore you, upon returning from FMLA leave, to your former position or to an equivalent job with equal pay and benefits. Read more about your rights as an employee against wrongful termination here: Defining Employment-at-Will: Avoiding Wrongful Termination.