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When can a worker take unpaid leave from their job?

On Behalf of | Apr 4, 2023 | Employment Law

Employers need to have dependable staff. They need to have enough workers on hand to meet the needs of clients or customers and managers who show up to open the facility. Without the right number of workers, a business may not be able to operate safely.

However, even the most dedicated employees still have their own lives. They may have health issues or a family matter that requires support due to a medical issue. Occasionally, a worker will need to take a lengthy leave of absence to address personal matters. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that allows workers to seek unpaid leave and then return to work under certain circumstances. When is a company required to accommodate a worker’s leave request per the FMLA?

When the company is large enough

The first factor to determine if the FMLA applies is to look at the size of the company. An obligation to accommodate a worker’s lengthy leave of absence could be an undue hardship for a smaller organization. The company needs to have at least 50 employees within 75 miles for a worker to qualify for unpaid leave under the FMLA.

When the worker has been there long enough

The duration of an employee’s work relationship with the company is also a consideration. Typically, an employee needs to have at least 1,250 work hours on record within the last 12 months to qualify.

When the reason for wanting leave qualifies

There are typically three reasons why an employee would qualify for unpaid leave under the FMLA. The first is when they have a medical issue. Workers could take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to address a health issue, such as undergoing medical treatment or recovering from surgery.

The second reason is to provide care for a family member. Workers can also take leave, sometimes up to a maximum of 26 weeks if the family member who requires support is a military servicemember, to take care of a child, spouse or parent going through medical treatment. Finally, adding a child to the family through birth, foster placement or adoption will also potentially qualify a worker for up to 12 weeks of FMLA leave.

Understanding the employment laws that govern unpaid leave can help both workers and the companies that employ them handle challenging situations. Working with an experienced legal professional can provide much-needed clarity to any party invested in the outcome of a leave-related situation.