From prenatal appointments to the frantic first weeks of life with a newborn, time is one thing parents never seem to have enough of. Balancing work and family obligations is often stressful, especially when mom and dad worry that taking time off may put their jobs at risk. 

First signed into law in 1993, the Family and Medical Leave Act eases that burden. This act requires that, under certain circumstances, employers must provide new parents with 12 weeks of unpaid leave. The law also extends certain job and insurance protections during that time to prevent employee discrimination, demotion or termination. 

How does the FMLA determine eligibility? 

FMLA employer requirements generally apply to private companies with at least 50 workers; government agencies at the local, state and federal level; and both private and public K-12 schools. Workers also have eligibility requirements. Those seeking FMLA leave must have been with the organization for at least one year and have worked at least 1,250 hours in the preceding year. 

What is the window of eligibility for parents using FMLA leave? 

A new parent who qualifies under the FMLA does not need to take the full 12 weeks of leave at once. A worker may choose to spread out time off over the course of one year from a child’s birth or adoption. In some cases, an employee may arrange for reduced hours instead of or in addition to a period of leave. 

What job protections does the FMLA offer? 

The FMLA protects eligible workers from termination while on approved leave. During this time, employers must provide continued group health insurance coverage under the same plan. Finally, when an employee returns, it must be either the same position as before or a position with comparable pay and responsibility. 

All too often employers either do not know the law or try to prevent workers from exercising their FMLA rights. Worse, in some cases, an employee may face retaliation for doing so. Those who believe their employer acted unlawfully may want to consult with an attorney about how to proceed next.