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What your employee's medical leave means for your small business

One of the biggest challenges a small business owner may face is when an employee takes unpaid medical leave. Each state holds its own intricacies and special laws that allow a singular person or a family to take a medical leave of absence. With federal acts like the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), sometimes employee rights and employer obligations overlap. Here's what you need to know to make sure you successfully manage your employee's medical leave.

When Congress passed FMLA in 1993, it required certain employers to give workers up to 12 weeks off (per year) to care for themselves, a family member, or a new child, or deal with issues arising from military duties of a family member. But not all personal emergency qualifies under FMLA. If your employee is seeking the help of FMLA, the reason they are doing so must fall under one of these categories:

  • A serious health condition they face. Most of the time, this refers to an employee's inpatient treatment, a chronic health problem, or when an employee is unable to perform every day activities while receiving care from a doctor due to a serious health problem.
  • A family member's serious health condition. If your employee is seeking leave for this reason, only certain family members are covered. Where parents, spouses, and children are included, grandparents, siblings, in-laws, and domestic partners are not. 
  • Birth. If your employee becomes a new parent within a year after their child is born, FMLA applies to them. This is also applicable to foster care and adoption. Leave may begin prior to the birth of the child, if necessary, for preparation and/or receiving prenatal care.  
  • Demands due to a family member's active duty. This is applicable to any employee who must leave to handle urgent matters from a family member's call to active duty. Certain military activities are also covered under FMLA like attending military events or ceremonies, receiving counseling, or spending time with a family member who is about to be deployed.
  • The service-related injury or illness of a family member.  You employee is allowed to take up to 26-weeks in a 12-month period to take care of a family member suffering a military-related illness or injury. Unlike the 12-week provisions mentioned earlier, this medical leave is restricted per service member, per injury. Your employee is not allowed more leave once the 26-weeks are up, unless it's for a different family member or if the same family returns to active service and receives a different injury.

Once your employees' medical leave is complete, you must reinstate them to their previous positions or similar ones. If you are unable to reinstate them to a previous position because it was eliminated while they were on leave, you must place them in a position equivalent in pay, working conditions, and benefits. 

If you are still unsure about the process of FMLA when it comes to your employees, seek the guidance of an attorney who specializes in employment law.

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