You’ve received a diagnosis and are told you will need surgery that takes four weeks’ recovery. You’re starting a chemotherapy protocol that will require you to receive treatment twice a week for six weeks. How will you manage work and your medical needs? This is where the Family and Medical Leave Act, more commonly referred to as the FMLA, comes in.
The FMLA is an employment law that allows employees to take job-protected, unpaid leave for family and medical reasons. This law was enacted because most employees are considered “at will” and thus could technically be fired at any time for any reason, which made it extremely challenging and nerve-racking for people to take time off work, even for very legitimate reasons. With the current protection under the FMLA, employees can take time off to care for themselves or family members without the fear of losing their jobs.
Our friends at The Muse have published a helpful guide regarding FMLA, including details on eligibility and how and when to use it. See below for highlights from the article that we believe will resonate the most with cancer patients and their caregivers.
Who is eligible for FMLA? Despite the fact that the Family and Medical Leave Act is a federal law, not everyone is entitled to use it. In order to be eligible for FMLA, an individual must meet the following requirements:
- Work for an employer that has 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius of the work site.
- Have been employed with the company for at least 12 months.
- Have worked at least 1,250 hours during the previous 12 months.
How long does FMLA last and does it need to be taken continuously or can it be split up? If one meets the eligibility requirements, an employee will be granted up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off in a 12-month period. However, those 12 weeks need not be taken all at once. Using the example above, if you need only four weeks off to recover from a surgery, but also know that in two months you will need two days off per week for treatment, you can take the four weeks off to start, then bank the remaining time for treatment later on, as long as it is taken in the same 12-month period.
What makes FMLA different from Short-Term Disability? This is a really important question. There are some critical differences between STD and FMLA. First, STD offers income replacement, while FMLA is completely unpaid. Second, STD is a private policy, which means that not all companies are required to offer it; whereas FMLA is a federal regulation that qualifying employers must adhere to. Additionally, while STD offers paid time off, it does not provide the job security that FMLA does; therefore, when possible, it’s a good idea to use both concurrently, to ensure job protection and income during your leave of absence. (For more on STD, check out our blog post on the “Important Facts to Know About Short-Term Disability.”)
While there are a variety of factors to consider when determining whether and/or how to take time off from work, understanding the FMLA and how it applies to you and your situation is an excellent place to start. For more information on using FMLA and figuring out a plan for taking time off, check out our articles on “Your Legal Rights in the Workplace,” “Creating an Action Plan” and “Sharing the News.”