Having a baby, dealing with a chronic illness, or taking care of a sick family member can put a lot of stress on full-time and part-time employees alike. A leave of absence can be an appealing option, but it may leave employees wondering if their job will still be there for them when they return.
Fortunately, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) may offer some protection. Even if an employer doesn’t provide paid sick leave or parental leave as a benefit, employees may still be eligible for unpaid job-protected leave under FMLA in Texas.
Here’s everything you need to know about taking FMLA leave in Texas, including which situations are covered and how to determine which employees are eligible.
What Is the Family and Medical Leave Act?
The Family and Medical Leave Act was passed in 1993, and entitles eligible employees to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period. Since FMLA leave is unpaid, the primary benefit is job protection. Employees have the right to return to work in the same role or in a substantially equivalent position.
But there are also other benefits, such as the right to maintain employer-based health insurance during the leave period so they can see the same health care provider.
Employers can’t turn down a valid leave request for employees who meet the eligibility requirements, but they do have some discretion. According to the U.S. Department of Labor at Dol.gov, if an employee intends to take recurring or intermittent leave, “the employer may transfer the employee temporarily to an alternative job with equivalent pay and benefits that accommodate recurring periods of leave better.”
Because FMLA is a federal law, it isn’t just applicable to employees in Texas; it’s also an entitlement in California, Washington, and every other state in the U.S.
However, some states have their own family leave laws that expand on FMLA rights, so it’s important for employers with staff in multiple states to understand how employment law works in each jurisdiction.
Who Is Eligible for FMLA in Texas?
Eligibility for FMLA depends on two things: the type and size of the employer, and how long the employee has been working for the company.
Here’s how the DOL’s Fact Sheet #28 defines a covered employer:
- Private-sector employers with over 50 employees in a 75-mile radius
- Public agencies, including state or federal agencies, regardless of size
- Public and private schools (primary and secondary), regardless of size
Because Texas is so geographically dispersed, this can present some challenges when determining FMLA eligibility that are less of an issue in other states. For example, if all of a company’s employees work in Dallas, then they might easily meet the criteria of 50 employees in a 75-mile radius. But if the company has locations across the state, some employees may be covered and others may not be.
The next factor to consider is whether the employee has put in enough time on the job to qualify for FMLA. Covered employees must meet the following conditions:
- Have worked at least 12 months for the same employer
- Have worked for at least 1,250 hours in the previous 12-month period
The first condition doesn’t have to be met consecutively, which means that FMLA could extend to seasonal or temporary employees who have worked 12 months in total over several years, and at least 1,250 hours in total in the past year.
One special case is the airline industry, which must follow a different set of rules when determining FMLA eligibility for flight crews. A crew member must have worked at least “60 percent of the employee’s applicable monthly guarantee and … not less than 504 hours,” according to the DOL Fact Sheet.
Instead of the usual 12 weeks of leave, they’re guaranteed 72 days of leave (based on a 6-day workweek) in a single 12-month period.
What Is Covered Under FMLA in Texas?
So, what other conditions have to be met to qualify for FMLA in Texas? If an employee meets the above requirements, then the reason for leave will be the determining factor. The following situations are considered qualifying reasons for leave under FMLA:
- The birth of a child
- The adoption of a child
- The placement of a child in foster care
- To care for an immediate family member who is sick
- To treat an employee’s own serious health condition
- To care for a relative who is an active duty service member, or to perform other duties under a qualifying exigency related to military service
There are a few conditions to keep in mind depending on the qualifying reason:
- If an employee is taking FMLA leave to bond with a child, it must be taken within the first year of a child’s birth or adoption, or the placement of a foster child.
- If an employee is taking leave for medical reasons, they may need to provide a certificate of their medical condition or incapacity if the employer requests it.
- If the purpose of leave is to care for an employee’s spouse, they must be legally married (this includes common-law marriages, but not domestic partnerships).
- For military caregiver leave, the employee is entitled to a longer leave period — up to 26 weeks in a 12 month period, instead of the usual 12 weeks.
It’s important for human resources departments to go through a FMLA checklist to make sure they’re honoring their employee’s rights under FMLA in Texas.
What Is the Texas Payday Law?
There’s one more piece of the puzzle to consider in Texas, and that’s the Texas Payday Law. This law essentially states that any fringe benefits an employer offers in writing — including sick pay and vacation pay — must be honored.
How does this relate to FMLA? Although FMLA itself is unpaid, an employee may be able to use their accrued sick time or vacation time while on FMLA leave. Under the Texas Payday Law, employers are obligated to honor this request.
Texas law also requires employers with more than 15 employees but fewer than 50 to offer the same benefits to parents of foster children that they offer other parents, such as paid time off to care for a family member.
Remember, the Family and Medical Leave Act doesn’t require employers to provide paid leave of any kind, but many employers choose to go above and beyond FMLA requirements by offering more comprehensive employee benefits.
Not only can this be an effective way to attract and retain employees, but there may be tax benefits: the IRS allows employers to claim a tax credit if they voluntarily offer paid leave to employees who meet the requirements of FMLA.
Streamline FMLA in Texas With Pulpstream
If you’re an employer trying to meet your legal requirements under FMLA in Texas, then you know that navigating leave laws can be complicated. It’s even more complicated if you have employees in multiple states or offer paid leave policies of your own.
Pulpstream makes it easy for you to stay compliant with employment laws in your state and benefit from the latest trends in leave management. By digitizing the LoA process, your HR department can streamline their workflows, while employees can self-service their own leave requests by uploading medical certificates and other documents.
Contact us today to get a demo and see Pulpstream in action!