When an employee puts in a sick leave request, it can raise all kinds of questions about employee rights, covered medical reasons, and qualifying exigencies. Luckily, state laws in place like the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protect both the employee and employer. This law provides peace of mind and can help protect the health and welfare of FMLA-qualifying employees by providing 12 weeks of unpaid leave entitlement each calendar year.

It's incredibly comforting to eligible employees when they can count on job security during a serious health condition or when called to care for a family member in need.

Below we'll provide an FMLA eligibility checklist, including what's covered, the essential details around an employee's eligibility, and a few pro tips to make the process easier for everyone involved.

What Is the FMLA?

FMLA is an unpaid leave of up to 12 workweeks that guarantees the employee job security and uninterrupted health insurance and medical benefits. The requirement for an FMLA leave applies to any period of incapacity longer than three consecutive business days.

As stated on the Department of Labor website, an employee can take FMLA leave for any of the following reasons:

  • The birth of a child
  • To bond with a child (within one year of birth or foster care/adoption placement)
  • Employee's own serious health condition that meets the qualifications and prevents them from carrying out their job
  • To care for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent who has a qualifying serious health condition  
  • Military family leave

FMLA also covers military caregiver leave, which is when an employee must care for a covered service member who has suffered serious injury or illness, and it includes 26 work weeks in a 12-month period.

The FMLA Eligibility Checklist for Employees and Employers

Team reviewing their FMLA eligibility checklist

Before filing, employees must meet the requirements of this FMLA eligibility checklist:

  1. Have worked for the employer for at least 12 months
  2. Have at least 1,250 hours of service in the 12 months before taking leave
  3. Work at a location where the employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles of the employee’s worksite.  

Here’s more information on each of those requirements.

  1. Have worked for the employer for at least 12 months

What if an employee took a long break while working for their employer, then came back? To be eligible for FMLA, an employee's 12 months of employment can include breaks of up to seven years. Any gaps that exceed seven years will hamper the employee's eligibility unless it's due to military obligations or a previously written agreement.

  1. Have at least 1,250 hours of service in the 12 months before taking leave

When qualifying for FMLA eligibility, "hours of service" means that the employee has actively performed duties and tasks. It eliminates paid time off, sick days, and most other scenarios where the employee was not actively engaged in work. The 1,250 hours must be completed by the time the leave starts.

The 12 months (here and for rule #1) is calculated in one of four ways:

  • Determined by the entire calendar year
  • Another fixed "leave year" period based on any 12 months (examples might include the fiscal year or the anniversary date from the employee's first day)
  • A 12-month period from the start date of an employee's first FMLA leave of absence
  • Retroactively from the date that an employee's first FMLA leave of absence begins
  1. Work at a location where the employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles of the employee’s worksite.

This may not apply depending on the type of employer:

  • Private sector: The rule applies here. Employers need to have employed over 50 employees within a 75-mile radius for every workday during the previous calendar year for FMLA eligibility.
  • Public agencies (including state and federal governments): Employers aren't required to uphold the 50-employee rule, which qualifies most federal employees for FMLA.
  • Employees who work at smaller or remote divisions: If there’s a small branch outside the 75-mile radius of a larger company, those employees might not be eligible. This division will only qualify if that particular location employs a minimum of 50 employees within a 75-mile radius.

What To Do If an Employee Is Approved for Leave

Once you receive a completed notice of eligibility from an employee, as the covered employer, it's your responsibility to communicate the following with the employee on your leave policy:

  • Your approval or denial of the request within five business days with a proper designation notice
  • How you intend to support and communicate throughout the leave as well as:
    • How the 12 months is defined
    • If you require medical certifications from their health care provider (they will have 15 calendar days to provide them)
    • Any premiums the employee will be responsible for paying
  • A statement that offers the reinstatement of their job at the end of their weeks of leave
  • Clear language that emphasizes their right to return to work at the end of the FMLA leave or intermittent leave
  • Any additional information you require to meet the employee request

The DOL.gov website has the most recently updated certification forms to support processing a Family Medical Leave Act request, including certification of health care provider for a serious health condition and certification of military family leave.

8 Pro FMLA Eligibility Tips for Employees

FMLA eligibility checklist: person in deep thought while at work

Here are just a few tips to support both the employee and employer at the early stages of an FMLA request:

  1. Make sure that your company is covered under the FMLA eligibility requirements.
  2. Confirm that you have a qualifying reason to take a medical leave.
  3. Ensure that your request meets the company notice requirements (typically 30 days notice).
  4. Create a schedule with your employer to minimize workplace disruption and cross-reference with human resources and your healthcare provider (who ultimately has the final say).
  5. Provide all relevant materials requested by your employer to support your request for FMLA.
  6. Get information about how to make premium payments to your employer since they will not be deducted from your paycheck (because the leave is unpaid).
  7. Ask whether your employer will request a "fitness for duty" certification from your medical care provider. Knowing at the start of your leave can help you prepare in advance and prevent delays when it’s time to return to work.
  8. Know your rights. You can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division or file a private lawsuit against an employer who you believe to be in violation of the Family Medical Leave Act.

Pulpstream's No-Code Automation Tools Keep Everyone on Task

Pulpstream website

Pulpstream makes processing an employee’s leave a streamlined and stress-free process.

With logic-driven workflows and intelligent notifications, it captures all the required information. This backup ensures that no crucial steps get missed, ending delays and providing employees with peace of mind.

Use automated communication support to comfort anxious employees and further invest in tools to help during difficult times due to a personal health condition or that of a loved one.

Perhaps the biggest perk of Pulpstream is its ability to provide easy communication access to employees while they're away. Whether through SMS or email, employees can upload required medical documents from any device.

The human resources team will love the customizable dashboards that they can create to access a secure and intuitive self-service portal. This feature ensures that communications are captured and stored in each employee's record, centralizing critical information and saving time.

Since it's a no-code platform, it's also budget-friendly and easy to use with a user-centric design that doesn't require extraneous training.

Get a feel for Pulpstream with a free demo. Our trained team of experts can answer any questions you have about implementing an automated solution to manage leave of absence requests and much more!