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Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA)

Written by

Tiffany Clark

Reviewed by

VidCruiter Editorial Team

Last Modified

Apr 17, 2024
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Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA)


The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) is a federal labor law that stipulates that employees who work for covered employers are entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period for family and health reasons. FMLA was signed into law on February 5, 1993, and took effect on August 5, 1993. FMLA is administered by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. 


To take FMLA leave, employees have to follow specific procedures. For example, if a worker knows in advance that they need to use FMLA leave, they are required to give a notice of 30 days to the employer. In an unplanned emergency, an employee must give the employer as much notice as is practical. 


Under FMLA, eligible employees can take unpaid leave under three circumstances:


  • Care for a family member who is seriously ill

  • Care for a new child

  • Recover from a serious health condition or illness


Serious health conditions that qualify under FMLA are defined as conditions, illnesses, injuries, or physical or mental conditions that require an inpatient stay or continuing treatment. These conditions can include the following (but are not limited to these):


  • Heart conditions requiring valve operations or bypass

  • Heart attacks

  • Severe respiratory conditions 

  • Chronic asthma

  • Emphysema

  • Most types of cancer

  • Back conditions that require extensive therapy or surgery

  • Spinal injuries

  • Strokes

  • Pneumonia

  • Severe arthritis

  • Severe psychiatric disabilities

  • Serious injuries caused off the job or by an accident

  • Emotional distress after a miscarriage

  • Appendicitis

  • Migraine headaches


Employees taking FMLA leave may need to submit a written medical certification to their employer to verify the health condition they are claiming. Employers have the right to ask a physician to:


  • Indicate the expected timing and length of the requested leave.

  • Certify that the leave is necessary. 


To be eligible for FMLA, an employee must meet these requirements:


  • Worked for an employer who has at least 50 employees within a radius of 75 miles (the 50/75 rule)

  • Worked at least 1,250 hours in the past 12 months (approximately 25 hours per week)

  • Worked for the employer for a minimum of 12 months (the 12 months are not required to be consecutive) 


Several states have passed their own laws to provide additional medical and family leave protections for employees. 


Employees can take FMLA leave in three different ways:


  • By working reduced hours

  • In a continuous block

  • On an intermittent basis, in certain circumstances


The Act signed into law in 1993 applies only to immediate family members: parents, spouses, and children. In 2008, amendments expanded the law’s coverage to include adult children and next of kin. The 2008 amendment also clarified that these rights and entitlements extend to common-law marriage and same-sex marriage. 


FMLA covers both private- and public-sector employees, but some categories of employees are excluded from entitlement or face certain limitations. These include highly compensated employees and elected officials. 


If an employee is ineligible for FMLA, they may be legally terminated from their position if they miss work. Employers can’t terminate an eligible employee for taking FMLA leave, but when the employee returns, their position can be terminated.


The law allows employers to lay off an employee while on FMLA leave. In this case, employers have to be careful to provide solid evidence that the employee would have been laid off even if they had not taken FMLA leave. While a worker is on FMLA leave, employers are required to:


  • Allow the employee to return to a job that is the same or equivalent to the position they had before the leave.

  • Maintain benefits such as group health care for the employee. 


In 2019, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2020, which included the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act (FEPLA), which amended FMLA to allow employees of the federal government up to 12 weeks of paid time off when they welcome a new baby or foster or adopt a new child. 



 If a woman experiences complications during pregnancy, and is placed on bed rest by a doctor, she could request FMLA leave from her employer.


Related Terms

Qualifying Exigency

might arise when an employee’s spouse, parent, or child of any age who is a member of the U.S. Armed Forces is on active duty or called to active duty. Employees may request FMLA leave to attend to affairs that normally would have been handled by the military member who is covered.

Substitution of Paid Leave

allows an eligible employee to substitute accrued paid leave instead of FMLA leave.

Intermittent Leave

is allowable in a reduced amount when a child is born or if an employee requires leave for therapy or regular treatment during work hours.
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