3:5 Family & Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA)

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) establishes a minimum labor standard which allows employees to take leave for specified reasons relating to family obligations without jeopardizing their employment. FMLA does not supersede any state or local law which provides more generous family or medical leave protection, nor does it affect an employer's obligation to provide greater leave rights under a collective bargaining agreement or employment benefit plan. In some instances the Princeton University policy is more generous than the federal or New Jersey State law. For full description of the policy see: 3.2.1 Family and Medical Leave.

The Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department's Employment Standards Administration is responsible for administering and enforcing the Act.

Leave Entitlement. FMLA entitles eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave each year for the following specified family and medical reasons:

  • birth of a child
  • placement of child for adoption or foster care
  • care of an immediate family member with a serious health condition
  • employee is unable to work because of their own serious health condition

FMLA also allows intermittent and reduced leave for employees, but permits employers to temporarily transfer an employee on intermittent leave or a reduced schedule to an available alternative position with equivalent pay and benefits for which the employee is qualified.

Employee Eligibility. To be eligible for a family or medical leave, an employee must:

  • have worked for the employer for a total of at least 12 months (need not be consecutive)
  • have worked at least 1250 hours in the 12 months immediately (need not be consecutive) preceding commencement of leave
  • work at a worksite having 50 or more employees within a 75 mile radius

Health Care and Other Benefits. The law provides that the employer must maintain the employee's coverage under any group health plan, and except for accrued or earned benefits (such as seniority), the employee must be restored to the same benefits upon return from leave as if the employee had continued to work. Employees on family or medical leave cannot collect unemployment or other government compensation.

Job Restoration. The employee must be restored to the same position held before the leave or an equivalent position upon return from a family or medical leave (unless employee is in top 10% paid).

Employers have the right to deny leave when an:

  • employee fails to give proper notice of a foreseeable leave; the employer can deny leave until 30 days after notice is provided
  • employee fails to provide timely medical certification

Employers also have the right to deny reinstatement:

  • until employees provide a requested fitness-for-duty medical certification
  • when employees notify employer that they do not intend to return to work
  • when leave was obtained fraudulently
  • if the salaried employee is in the highest 10% of the employer's workforce where restoration to employment would create "substantial and grievous injury" to the business operation

Documentation and Certification. Employees requesting family or medical leave may be required to provide:

  • 30-day advance notice of leave when the need is foreseeable or 15-day advance notice in the event of a serious health condition
  • medical certification from the health care provider of the employee or the employee's ill family member supporting the need for leave
  • second or third medical opinions and periodic recertification, at the employer's expense
  • periodic reports during the family or medical leave regarding the employee's status and \tab intent to return to work

Records Maintenance. The Act requires that the same records be maintained as those needed to comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act, such as basic payroll and identifying employee data, rate or basis of pay, total compensation paid, etc. for no less than three years. In addition, FMLA requires employers to maintain records of the dates family or medical leave is taken by employees and of any disputes between the employer and an employee regarding designation of leave as family or medical leave.

The above information is a summary only and is in no way intended to be legal advice. Furthermore, this should be read in concert with University policies and procedures. Requests for further information should be directed to the Office of Human Resources.

Family and Medical Leave Act Glossary

continuing treatment by a health care professional: under the supervision of, although not actively treated by, a health care provider for a serious long-term or chronic condition or disability that is incurable (e.g., Alzheimer's or severe stroke)

equivalent position: has the same pay, benefits, and working conditions, including privileges, and prerequisites and status and involves substantially similar duties and responsibilities, which must entail substantially equivalent skill, effort, responsibility and authority

family member:

son/daughter: biological, adopted, foster, stepchild, legal ward or a "child" of a person acting in the capacity of a parent (provided the child is under 18 years of age or over 18 years of age, but unable to care for themselves because of a physical or mental disability)

parent: includes biological parents and a person that acted in the capacity of a parent towards an employee

spouse: defined in accordance with applicable state laws, including common law marriages recognized by the state

health care provider: includes

licensed doctors of medicine or osteopathy, podiatrists, dentists, clinical psychologists, optometrists, chiropractors licensed to provide health care under the laws of a foreign country (FMLA recognizes those authorized to practice in the state)

nurse practitioners and nurse-midwives licensed to provide health care under the laws of a foreign nation (FMLA recognizes those authorized to practice in the state)

Christian Science practitioners listed with the First Church of Christ, Scientist in Boston, Massachusetts.

needed to care for: encompasses physical and psychological care and/or instances when the employee is needed to fill in for others providing care or to arrange for third party care of the family member

serious health condition: any illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that involves

  1. any period of incapacity or treatment connected with inpatient care in a hospital, hospice or residential medical facility or
  2. any period of incapacity requiring absence of more than 3 calendar days and continuing treatment by (or under the supervision of) a health care provider or
  3. continuing treatment by (or under the supervision of) a health care provider for prenatal care or a chronic or long-term condition that is incurable or so serious that if not treated will likely result in incapacity of more than 3 days

unable to perform the functions of his/her job: is unable to work at all or unable to perform any of the essential functions of his/her position

workday/workweek: measured by the employee's normal workday/workweek; if the employee's schedule varies, a "normal workweek" is the average number of hours worked per week over the 12 weeks prior to the start of the family and medical leave.