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FMLA Eligibility Explained: Are Your Employees Eligible?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that gives employees certain protections if they need to take a leave of absence from their job due to a serious health condition or another qualifying reason. In many cases, eligible employees are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave and reinstatement into the same job when they return.

But FMLA eligibility depends on several factors, including the reason for leave, the size of the employer, and how long the employee has worked for the company. It’s important for employers to understand FMLA eligibility criteria in order to honor employee rights and to make the process as seamless as possible for the HR department.

Let’s take a look at how FMLA works, and how to assess eligibility when an employee requests a leave of absence for family or medical reasons.

Why Take FMLA Leave?

As a growing number of companies compete to offer generous parental leave and sick leave benefits, it can be easy to view the FMLA as an afterthought. But according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only “23 percent of civilian workers had access to paid family leave” in 2021, as did 26% of state and local government employees.

For many employees, the Family and Medical Leave Act is an important resource during times of illness or incapacity. The key benefits include:

  • Job protection: Under FMLA, employees must be allowed to return to work in the same position or one that is reasonably similar.
  • Health insurance: While on leave, employees can keep their employer-based health insurance and continue to see the same health care provider.
  • Family bonding: Employees can request leave at any time during the first year after a child’s birth or adoption or the placement of a foster child.

Depending on the situation, FMLA may not be the most generous leave policy available to an employee, but FMLA leave can overlap with other benefits, such as a state leave program or a company’s own sick leave or vacation policies.

Types of FMLA Leave

Unlike paid leave programs, which vary from state to state, FMLA is a federal law, so it offers the same protections for all eligible employees in the U.S. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, eligible employees can take up to 12 weeks of FMLA leave for any of the following reasons:

  • The birth or adoption of a child
  • The placement of a child in foster care
  • To care for a family member with a serious injury or medical condition
  • Medical treatment for the employee’s own serious health condition
  • A “qualifying exigency” due to a family member’s active duty military service

If an employee is caring for a covered service member, then they may be eligible for an even longer leave entitlement: up to 26 workweeks in a 12-month period.

Factors That Determine FMLA Eligibility

FMLA eligibility: employee consulting his boss

If you think that an employee’s leave request might be covered under FMLA, then you’ll want to work through this FMLA eligibility checklist to make sure that’s the case. In fact, depending on the size and location of your company, it’s entirely possible that some of your employees are covered by FMLA and some are not.

Here’s what your human resources department needs to know about the basic criteria that determine FMLA eligibility.

What Is a Covered Employer?

First, is your company or organization considered a “covered employer” under FMLA? According to’s Fact Sheet #28, there are three types of employers who are required to provide unpaid FMLA leave to their employees. These are:

  • Public agencies, including state and local governments
  • Public and private schools (both primary and secondary)
  • Private-sector employers with at least 50 employees

Small businesses with less than 50 employees aren’t covered under FMLA, but they may still be bound by other programs. For example, California offers military family leave to eligible employees whether or not they qualify for FMLA.

Who Is a Covered Employee?

Determining whether an employer meets these FMLA requirements is pretty clear-cut, but assessing an employee’s FMLA eligibility can be a little tricker.

To qualify, an employee must meet the following conditions:

  • They must have worked for the employer for at least 12 months
  • They must have performed at least 1,250 “hours of service” in the preceding 12 months (not necessarily the calendar year)
  • They must work at a location with at least 50 employees within 75 miles

If all of your employees work full-time at a central office, then most or all of them will be eligible for FMLA leave. But if you hire seasonal workers, remote workers, or part-time workers, then you may need additional information to determine their eligibility.

What Is a Covered Medical Condition?

When it comes to medical conditions, the employer has some discretion in determining how FMLA is applied. For example, an employee can request to take their FMLA leave intermittently, instead of all at once, if the employer approves.

The employer can also request a medical certification documenting the condition, which the employee must provide within 15 days.

Situations that typically fall under FMLA include chronic conditions, inpatient stays, and illnesses that require repeated visits to a health care provider (such as cancer).

Which Family Members Are Covered Under FMLA?

If an employee requests FMLA leave to care for a seriously ill family member, then they must be an immediate family member, such as a spouse, parent, or child, not an in-law or grandparent (unless the grandparent is acting in loco parentis).

The exception is for Military Caregiver Leave, in which an employee requests time off to care for a military member. A broader range of family members, including aunts, uncles, and first cousins, may be considered “next of kin” under FMLA.

What if an Employee Isn’t Eligible for FMLA?

Not every employee who wants to take FMLA leave will meet the requirements, but that doesn’t mean they’re out of luck. If you have a positive working relationship, then it may be in both of your interests to find a solution.

Common reasons why an employee isn’t eligible for FMLA include:

  • They haven’t worked for your company long enough (at least one year)
  • They work at a location with less than 50 employees within a 75-mile radius
  • They don’t have a qualifying medical condition

If that’s the case, you can consider other options, such as working out a combination of unpaid leave and sick time, or seeing if they qualify for a state-level program.

Set Up an FMLA Approval Process With Pulpstream

Consultant talking to a client

A leave of absence request under FMLA isn’t just a handshake agreement. You’ll need a clear and consistent checklist to determine eligibility. And if it looks like an employee will be eligible for leave, then yes, there are lots and lots of FMLA forms to fill out.

With Pulpstream, you can take some of the hassle out of FMLA requests by digitizing the leave of absence process. Your employees will thank you for giving them an easy way to submit LOA requests, and your HR department can rest assured that they’re meeting their legal obligations and filling out the appropriate paperwork.

Plus, Pulstream’s no-code interface is so easy to customize that you can use it to streamline other aspects of your business operations too.

Simply request a demo to learn more about how we can help!