Traditionally, employers could terminate employees who took time off work to recover from a serious illness, care for family members recovering from a serious illness, or to welcome a new child into the family. This changed when the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was signed into law in 1993, which made it illegal for companies to interfere with employees’ right to take leave under these circumstances, or to retaliate against employees who take leave under these conditions. The FMLA is intended to promote the stability and economic security of families as well as the nation’s interest in preserving the integrity of families.

Under the FMLA employees are entitled to twelve weeks of unpaid leave per year to to care for a new child, whether for the birth of a son or daughter, or for the adoption or placement of a child in foster care; to care for a seriously-ill family member (spouse, child or parent); to recover from a worker’s own serious illness; to care for an injured servicemember in the family; or to address qualifying exigencies arising out of a family member’s deployment.

If your leave qualifies under the FMLA, you are entitled to restoration to the same or substantially the same position upon return to work, protection of your benefits while on leave, protection of your rights not have their rights under the Act interfered with or denied by an employer, and protection from retaliation by your employer for exercising your rights under the Act.

Even though the FMLA is a powerful statute it has some limitations. Not every employee is eligible for FMLA protection, and not every employer has to comply with the FMLA. The FMLA applies to all public agencies, including state, local and federal employers, local education agencies (schools), and private-sector employers who employed 50 or more employees in 20 or more workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year, including joint employers and successors of covered employers.

To be eligible for FMLA benefits, you must have worked for your employer for at least twelve months, you must have worked at least 1,250 hours over the previous twelve months, and you must work at a location where at least fifty employees are employed by your employer within seventy-five miles.