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Does FMLA Pay You? Paid and Unpaid Leave Explained

If you’re thinking of taking a leave of absence from work for family or medical reasons, then you may be protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This federal law requires your employer to hold your job for you for up to 12 weeks of leave.

But does FMLA pay you while you’re away? Technically, no — FMLA only guarantees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. But you may be eligible to get paid while on unpaid FMLA leave if your state or company policies allow for it.

Here’s everything you need to know about paid and unpaid leave, including whether or not you can expect a paycheck while you’re on FMLA leave.

What Is FMLA Leave?

The Family and Medical Leave Act was passed in 1993 in order to provide job-protected leave to eligible employees who need to take time off for a serious health condition or to take care of a child or another family member.

The key element of FMLA leave is that it’s job-protected. That means your employer can’t give your job away to someone else or put you in a materially different position when you return to work.

That can take some of the pressure off of taking a leave of absence: You get to keep your health insurance and have a job waiting for you when you return.

But it may still leave you wondering: Does FMLA pay you your usual salary? And if not, are there other ways to get paid leave so you can afford to take time off without putting a strain on your finances?

Does FMLA Pay You While You’re on Leave?

The Family and Medical Leave Act is a law that certain government and private-sector employers have to abide by — but it isn’t a paid leave program.

That means you won’t get a paycheck from your employer while you’re on leave, unless your employer has its own paid leave policies. You will, however, continue to get health benefits, so you can keep seeing the same health care provider while on leave.

The exception is if you live in a state with its own paid leave program, in which case you may be entitled to benefit payments from the state government.

There’s nothing to stop you from qualifying for multiple types of leave at the same time, so you could claim benefits from a state program while on FMLA leave. In some cases, you might also qualify for short-term disability insurance while on FMLA leave. 

The important thing to remember is that FMLA itself doesn’t pay you while you’re on leave, and it doesn’t require your employer to either.

However, you can ask your employer to pay you for any days of sick leave that you’ve accumulated under your company’s paid sick leave policy.

How Does FMLA Leave Work?

Eligible employees can take FMLA leave for up to 12 workweeks in a 12-month period. In most cases, FMLA leave needs to be taken all at once, but you may be able to take intermittent leave if your employer approves it.

You’ll need to request leave at least 30 days before you intend to start, unless it’s for an unexpected situation like a serious illness.

When you’re ready to return to work, you’re entitled to reinstatement in the same job or a sufficiently similar position. Your new work hours and responsibilities can vary slightly, but you can’t be moved to an entirely different schedule or location.

Who Qualifies for FMLA Leave?

Does FMLA pay you: entrepreneur interviewing an applicant

FMLA is available to both part-time and full-time employees who have worked for their employer for at least 12 months. However, it’s important to check the FMLA eligibility requirements before putting in a leave request

There are two things that determine your FMLA eligibility: You must work for a covered employer and you must have a qualifying reason for requesting leave.

What Is a Covered Employer?

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a covered employer is defined as:

  • Any public or private school (secondary or elementary)
  • Any public agency (state, local, or federal)
  • Any private-sector employer with at least 50 employees

If your employer is a small business with fewer than 50 employees, you won’t be eligible for FMLA. But check your state’s leave laws: Many of them have a lower threshold and apply to businesses with as few as 25 employees.

What Is a Qualifying Reason?

FMLA covers a wide range of situations, from having a new child to receiving medical care for a serious illness. Here are three reasons you might be eligible for FMLA.

1. You’re welcoming a new child into the family.

Eligible parents can take parental leave for the birth of a child, the adoption of a child, or the placement of a child in foster care in their home. Parents can also take time off to bond with their biological child or foster child within the first year of welcoming them into the family.

2. You’re acting as the caregiver of a family member.

Eligible employees can take time off to care for a seriously ill family member, including a spouse, child, or parent. However, there are some exclusions:

  • In-laws are not included under FMLA
  • Domestic partners aren’t considered legal spouses under FMLA
  • Grandparents are only included if they are acting in place of the employee’s parents (i.e., in loco parentis)

If your family member is an active duty service member, the amount of leave you can take to care for them increases from 12 weeks to 26 weeks.

3. You have a serious injury or illness.

Employees can request time off for self-care if they have a serious medical condition that’s beyond the scope of sick leave. This could include extended time off due to an injury, illness, or disability, or intermittent leave for cancer treatment.

If your employer wants proof of your medical condition, they must give you at least 15 days to provide a medical certification from your doctor.

States With Paid Leave Programs

Although FMLA doesn’t offer any paid leave entitlements, many state programs do. The following states either currently offer paid leave or are planning to:

  • California
  • Colorado (effective 2024)
  • Connecticut
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Massachusetts
  • Oregon (effective 2023)
  • Rhode Island
  • Washington
  • Washington, D.C.

Keep in mind that the qualifying circumstances for state-level leave may differ from the qualifying reasons for FMLA leave.

For example, New York’s Paid Family Leave doesn’t cover time off for an employee’s own serious health condition. But it does expand the list of family members to include in-laws and grandparents, who aren’t covered under FMLA.

In many cases, state leave laws expand eligibility to employers with fewer than 50 employees; in Oregon, that number is 25.

And in California, even self-employed workers may be eligible for paid leave if they’ve contributed to the state’s Disability Insurance Elective Coverage program.

If you’re unsure which programs you’re eligible for in your state, ask your company’s human resources department for help.

Use Pulpstream to Manage Leave Requests

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If you’re a covered employer, then you’re required to provide leave to eligible employees under FMLA. But every employee’s situation is different, and it can be hard for your HR department to keep track of all of the FMLA forms and paperwork required. You may also have state leave laws and sick leave policies of your own to navigate.

With Pulpstream, you can automate your leave of absence management process to streamline everything from leave of absence requests to job reinstatement.

Pulpstream makes it easy to determine FMLA eligibility using a no-code rule engine, and helps ensure compliance with all federal and state labor laws.

Learn more on the blog or request a demo to see our platform in action!