When an employee requests a leave of absence in PA, it’s important for their employer to know whether or not it falls under the protection of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Although the state of Pennsylvania doesn’t have its own leave laws, eligible employees are covered by FMLA in PA, just as they are in every other state.
This federal law provides up to 12 weeks of leave in any 12-month period, for qualifying reasons such as giving birth or treating a serious health condition. But it only applies to employees who have worked for a “covered employer” for a certain amount of time.
Here’s what you need to know about navigating FMLA in PA, and how to determine an employee’s rights and responsibilities when they request FMLA leave.
What Is FMLA?
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has been on the books since 1993, when Congress passed it and Bill Clinton signed it into law. It’s intended to provide unpaid, job-protected leave for employees who meet certain eligibility requirements.
Employees who qualify for FMLA in PA can’t be fired while on leave, and they must be allowed to return to work in the same job or a reasonably equivalent position.
Although FMLA only provides for unpaid leave, employees can draw from their accrued sick time or any other paid leave policies that their employer offers.
They must also be allowed to keep their employer-based health insurance coverage, so they can continue to see the same health care provider while on leave.
Do Any Local Leave Laws Apply?
In states that have their own paid or unpaid leave laws, FMLA applies concurrently with those laws. But since Pennsylvania employment law doesn’t mandate any type of sick leave, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act is the only entitlement that most PA employers have to worry about.
However, some parts of the state have implemented their own sick leave laws, such as Allegheny County and the city of Philadelphia.
Even if an employee doesn’t qualify for FMLA in PA, they may still have job protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or other employment laws.
Who Is Eligible for FMLA in PA?
Although both full-time and part-time employees are covered, FMLA rights only kick in once an employee has put in a certain amount of time with a “covered employer.”
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL.gov) defines a covered employer as:
- A public or private school (elementary or secondary)
- A government agency at the state, local, or federal level
- A private company with at least 50 employees during 20 weeks of the year
Employees become eligible for FMLA once they meet the following criteria:
- Have worked for at least 12 months with the same employer
- Have performed 1,250 hours of work during the preceding 12 months
- Are employed at a worksite with at least 50 employees in a 75-mile radius
Since the 12 months of employment can be accrued in multiple periods, temporary and seasonal workers may be eligible, as long as there isn’t a gap longer than seven years. However, the 1,250 hours of work must occur during the most recent 12-month period.
How Much Leave Can an Employee Take?
FMLA leave is calculated over a 12-month period, and most qualifying reasons provide a maximum of 12 weeks of unpaid leave. FMLA leave doesn’t have to be taken all at once, and it can even be taken for separate reasons in the same year.
If it’s medically necessary, or if the employer approves, an employee can request time off in the smallest available increment, such as 15 minutes or one hour.
For example, an employee may request intermittent leave or a reduced work schedule to attend ongoing medical appointments for their own serious health condition.
The only type of leave that exceeds the 12-week maximum is military caregiver leave, which entitles the employee to 26 weeks of leave in a 12-month period.
What Scenarios Qualify for FMLA in PA?
Employees can take FMLA leave for a wide range of scenarios, and not all of them are clear-cut cases. For example, parental leave may seem like an obvious fit for FMLA in PA, but what about mental health leave? That depends on the situation.
In most cases, employees in PA can request leave for the following reasons:
FMLA provides up to 12 workweeks of medical leave to care for an immediate family member, or to treat an employee’s own serious health condition.
The specific medical condition is less important than the duration of the illness or injury. A health condition qualifies for FMLA if it’s ongoing: For example, it requires an overnight stay in a hospital, or more than one appointment with a health care provider.
That’s why mental health leave could fall under FMLA if it’s a chronic condition that requires multiple treatments.
A serious injury may also qualify for FMLA protections if the employee is unable to perform their duties for an extended period of time.
The employer can request a medical certificate documenting the employee’s health condition, as well as a certification that they’re fit to return to work.
If the employer provides access to a group health plan, the employee must be allowed to keep their insurance and other health benefits while on leave.
Under FMLA in PA, parents can request up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to bond with a new child. The same rules apply if the child is born, adopted, or placed into foster care, but the leave must be used within one year of the child’s arrival.
There’s no difference between paternity and maternity leave, and both parents can use their full allotment of FMLA leave. The only exception is if they both work for the same company; in that case, they only get 12 weeks of parental leave between them.
Pregnancy doesn’t automatically start the clock on FMLA leave; the employee should let their employer know 30 days in advance when they want their leave period to begin. If the employee needs to take time off for medical reasons during their pregnancy, it will count toward their total 12-week allowance.
Military families may qualify for one of two types of FMLA leave in PA: military caregiver leave and qualifying exigency leave.
Military caregiver leave is similar to medical leave in which the employer cares for an ill or injured family member. But in this case, the family member is an active duty service member or veteran, and became ill or injured in the line of duty.
Military caregiver leave expands the definition of a “family member” to include siblings, grandparents, and first cousins if the employee is their next of kin. Eligible employees also get a longer leave allotment: 26 workweeks per year instead of 12 weeks.
Qualifying exigency leave, on the other hand, typically involves smaller allotments of leave for specific purposes, such as:
- 15 calendar days to spend with a service member during their Rest and Recuperation period
- 7 days to make arrangements following a short-notice deployment
The 12-week maximum applies for other issues arising from deployment, such as time taken for counseling, childcare, or to make financial arrangements.
Simplify FMLA Requests for PA Employees
Employees can take FMLA leave for multiple reasons, including medical conditions, the birth of a child, or issues relating to military deployment. As an employer in PA, it’s up to your human resources team to ensure that FMLA requests are handled properly.
By using Pulpstream as your leave of absence management system, you can reduce the risk of human error and make it easier for your employees to submit their medical certifications online. Plus, you can simplify the return to work process so it takes less time for employees to get back to the office at the end of their leave period.
Contact us today to get a demo and learn more!