Giving leave time to employees

Giving leave time to employees

Here's how to make the Family and Medical Leave Act work for your practice and employees.
Oct 22, 2008

I know it's hard to believe, but life happens beyond the walls of your practice. Employees have babies, develop serious health conditions, or need to take care of a loved one. The Family and Medical Leave Act allows eligible staff members to take leave for up to a total of 12 work weeks during any 12 month-period for:

  • the birth of a child and to care for the newborn child
  • the adoption or foster care of a new baby or child
  • the care of a family member, child, spouse, or parent with a serious health condition
  • a serious health condition that makes the staff member unable to perform his or her job.

In order to be eligible for FMLA leave, a staff member must meet certain criteria and the practice must employ 50 or more staff members for each working day during 20 or more work weeks in the current or preceding calendar year. Now, if you employ fewer than 50 people, remember that a happy staff is a productive staff. Just because you're not required to offer unpaid leave doesn't mean you can't offer it.

A staff member is eligible if he or she:
  • has been employed by the practice for at least 12 months.
  • has worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months immediately preceding the beginning of the leave.
  • works at a location with 50 or more employees who all work within a 75-mile radius.

Did you get all that? There's more. In most cases, FMLA leave is unpaid. However, the practice can require the staff member to use any accrued or earned paid leave before the start of unpaid FMLA leave. The staff member may take the leave on an intermittent basis rather than all at once, or he or she may work part time if it meets the needs of the practice and that staff member. And although the intermittent use of FMLA benefits is allowed, it doesn't give the staff member an excuse for tardiness. Practices that fall under FMLA guidelines should have a written policy stipulating that leave must be taken in increments consistent with the practice's payroll system. For example, if the smallest amount of time the payroll system recognizes is a quarter of an hour, then employees can take FMLA time only in quarter-hour increments and with advance approval.

A staff member on FMLA leave is entitled to the same health benefits he or she received while working. After the leave ends, the staff member has a right to return to the same position or a similar one with equivalent pay, benefits, and working conditions.

Phil Seibert, CVT, is an author, speaker, and consultant with SafetyVet in Calhoun, Tenn. Send questions or comments to