Caregivers: Leave Rights Clearer in New FMLA Guide


Last week  the Department of Labor (DOL) released a guide on the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) that working family caregivers may find invaluable. The step-by-step, easy-to-read resource outlines who is eligible for FMLA, how employees can apply for and take leave and their rights to keep their job when they're ready to return to work.

FMLA allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for, among other reasons, caregiving for loved ones who are ill.

FMLA derives from a simple idea: An employee who is sick or needs to care for an ill family member, should not have to fear losing his or her job. Hundreds of pages of rules and regulations have been written to clarify this idea, resulting in both employees and employers struggling to understand their rights and obligations. It's complicated, which makes the federal guide a delightful find.

Of particular interest to caregivers is the section in the guide defining the rights of caregivers, including parents caring for children or their parents and grandparents caring for their adult children or grandkids. The regulations apply to all families, regardless of sexual orientation.

Caregiver: You may be surprised by the rights you have and the protections available to you under the federal statute. That is, if you qualify. In order to be eligible for FMLA:

  1. Your employer must be required to provide the leave. In general, larger companies, with 50 or more workers, are covered.
  2. You must have worked long enough for that covered employer, which is generally at least 12 months and 1,250 hours during that period. Part-time employees who meet these standards are ordinarily eligible.
  3. You must have a reason that qualifies. It includes having a "serious health condition," that is, being under the care of a physician, or needing the time to care for a family member with a serious health condition.

The Employee's Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act makes it clear that adult children caring for their parents, and grandparents responsible for their grandchildren, are eligible for FMLA, as is a husband or wife caring for a spouse.

A child includes a biological, adopted, foster or step child, or a child for whom the person acts "in loco parentis." For example, an employee with no biological or legal relationship to a child who is nevertheless responsible for that child's day-to-day care and financial support, is "in loco parentis" to that child, making them eligible for FMLA where a serious health condition exists. Easy-to-follow flow charts make eligibility understandable.

If you meet these guidelines, your next step is to apply for the leave. The handbook lays out what you must do to apply, what your employer needs from you to verify the need for the leave, and what your boss' obligations are to grant you that time off.

Use the guide to understand your rights. It may not cover all the fine points, but it's a good place to start and you don't have to be a lawyer or policy expert to understand it!

For more information on FMLA, head over to the DOL website.

Follow Sally at or on Twitter @SallyAbrahms

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