When you need to take time off from work because you or a loved one is experiencing a serious health condition, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is here to help. This guide provides information on how to talk to your employer about taking job-protected leave for family or medical reasons under the FMLA.
In this guide, you’ll find information on:
- Things to know as you think about FMLA leave
- When to let your employer know you might need FMLA leave
- Talking to your employer about FMLA leave
- Things you don’t have to tell your employer
- What your employer must tell you about FMLA leave
- How to reach us if you need help
Things to Know as You Think About FMLA Leave
Here are some things to know as you think about whether FMLA can help you.
- FMLA eligibility. In order to take FMLA leave, you must meet the FMLA’s eligibility criteria.
- FMLA reasons for leave. You can use FMLA leave for certain qualifying reasons. You can check out our resources below for more information:
- Use Fact Sheet #28P to learn about taking leave for your or your family member’s serious health conditions.
- Use Fact Sheet #28Q to learn about taking leave from work for birth, adoption, foster care placement, and bonding with a child.
- Use Fact Sheet #28M to learn more about military family leave.
- Use Fact Sheet #28O to learn more about taking leave for mental health conditions.
- If you’re unsure if the FMLA may apply to your situation, you can call the Wage and Hour Division’s toll-free helpline at 1-866-487-9243.
- Using FMLA Leave. You can use FMLA leave all at once or, in most instances, in smaller blocks of time. Generally, you should let your employer know about your need for leave as soon as you can.
- Protections from retaliation under the FMLA. Your employer is prohibited from interfering with, restraining, or denying the exercise of FMLA rights.
- If you think your employer is retaliating against you, you can call the Wage and Hour Division’s toll-free helpline at 1-866-487-9243.
When to Let Your Employer Know You Might Need FMLA Leave
To take FMLA leave, you must provide your employer with appropriate notice.
- If you know in advance that you will need FMLA leave, you must give your employer at least 30 days advance notice. For example, if you are planning to have surgery in three months, you can give your employer notice of your planned surgery at least 30 days in advance.
- If you know you need leave less than 30 days in advance, you must give your employer notice as soon as you can. For example, you can give your employer notice of your need for leave either the day you learn of the need or the next workday.
- When you need FMLA leave unexpectedly, you must inform your employer as soon as it is possible and practical to do so. For example, if a family member is injured in an accident, you can inform your employer as soon as it is possible and practical to do so.
- Remember to follow your employer’s usual policy or call-in procedures for requesting leave, unless you are unable to do so.
- Your employer may require you to provide a medical certification from a health care provider.
- Your employer must allow you at least 15 calendar days to provide it, and, in some circumstances, you may be entitled to additional time. You can:
- Use Fact Sheet #28G to learn more about certification of a serious health condition under the FMLA.
- Visit our FMLA Forms webpage to find example forms, which you can have a health care provider fill out for you to provide certification to your employer.
- Give your health care provider FMLA Certification Help for Health Care Providers to help ensure they provide a complete and sufficient certification.
Talking to Your Employer About FMLA Leave
When you talk to your employer:
- Provide enough information to indicate that your leave is due to an FMLA-qualifying reason. While you do not have to specifically ask for FMLA leave, you do need to provide enough information so your employer is aware it may be covered by the FMLA.
- A simple statement that you are “sick” may not provide enough information. If you don’t give your employer enough information to know that your leave may be covered by the FMLA, your leave may not be protected.
- If you are using leave for a reason that your employer has previously approved for FMLA leave, you may need to tell your employer specifically that it is for your qualifying reason or it is for FMLA leave.
What you need to tell your employer will vary based on your individual situation. Below are helpful examples of what you might say to request FMLA leave in different circumstances. Your employer may have additional questions if they are not sure whether FMLA applies to your situation.
What you could say:
- If you need leave to care for your parent after surgery: “My father will have surgery next month, and I will need leave to care for him after he is released.”
- If you injured your back playing pick-up basketball and need physical therapy: “I saw my doctor today. I need leave for weekly therapy treatment and recovery for the next six weeks.”
- If you need leave unexpectedly to care for your spouse who is undergoing treatment for cancer: “I need to take care of my spouse today. His chemotherapy treatments are affecting him more than usual.”
- You may want to ask about available paid leave. FMLA leave is unpaid leave. However, if you have available sick time, vacation time, paid time off (PTO), etc., your employer may require you to use that leave time, or you may choose to use that paid time off at the same time as your FMLA leave. Your employer’s normal rules for the use of the paid leave will apply.
- You also may be able to use FMLA and state paid family and medical leave at the same time.
What you could say:
- “Do I have paid leave (PTO, vacation, sick leave) available to use during some or all of my FMLA leave?”
- You may also want to ask about health insurance. Under the FMLA, if your employer normally provides group health insurance coverage, then you have the right to continued coverage during FMLA leave on the same terms as if you had continued to work. Be aware, you will need to continue to make any normal contributions to the cost of health insurance premiums.
What you could say:
- “What happens to my group health insurance while I’m on leave?”
Things You Don’t Have to Tell Your Employer
- You do not have to tell your employer your diagnosis. However, you will need to give your employer enough information to know that your leave may be protected by the FMLA.
- You only need to provide medical information about the health condition for which you need leave. Your employer does not need to know your or your family member’s medical history. Your employer can request that you provide medical certification containing sufficient medical facts to establish that you are using FMLA leave for a qualifying serious health condition.
- You are not required to sign a medical release or waiver as part of the certification process. However, if required by your employer, you must provide a complete and sufficient certification from a health care provider.
What Your Employer Must Tell You About FMLA Leave
After you have notified your employer of your need for leave, your employer must:
- Notify you if you are eligible for FMLA leave within five business days of your first leave request. If your employer says that you are not eligible, the employer must state at least one reason why you are not eligible (for example, you have not worked for the employer for a total of 12 months).
- Give you a notice of your rights and responsibilities under the FMLA. Your employer must provide this notice at the same time that they give you an eligibility notice. The notice of rights from your employer must include:
- The defined 12-month period your employer uses to keep track of how much FMLA leave you have available each year. It can be a calendar year, 12 months forward from the first time you take leave, a fixed year such as your anniversary date, or a rolling 12-month period measured backward from the date you use any FMLA leave.
- Whether you will be required to provide medical certification from a health care provider, and the consequences of not doing so.
- Your right to use paid leave at the same time as FMLA leave.
- Whether your employer will require you to use your paid leave at the same time as FMLA leave.
- Your right during the FMLA leave to maintain your health benefits and whether you will be required to make premium payments.
- Your right to return to your job (or one that is nearly identical) at the end of your FMLA leave.
- Notify you whether the leave will be designated as FMLA leave after your employer has the information necessary to determine if your leave is covered by the FMLA. If possible, your employer must notify you how much leave will be counted against your FMLA entitlement. If your employer determines that your leave is not covered by the FMLA, it must notify you of that determination. Your employer must also let you know if you will be required to provide a fitness-for-duty certification before returning to work.
- If your employer tells you that you are not covered by the FMLA and you disagree, you can call the Wage and Hour Division with your questions.
How to Reach Us if You Need Help
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) is responsible for administering and enforcing the FMLA for most employees.
If you have questions, or you think that your rights under the FMLA may have been violated, you can contact WHD at 1-866-487-9243. You will be directed to the WHD office nearest you for assistance.