We’ve talked about FMLA benefits and who’s eligible to receive them. But, how do you go about taking an FMLA leave? We’ll cover the important steps that you must take to get your FMLA leave approved.

1. Give your employer as much notice as reasonably possible.

Sometimes the reason for your FMLA leave can’t have been foreseen. But, you must give your employer at least 30 days notice if you know about an impending obligation that falls under FMLA.

For example, if you know that a family member has surgery scheduled for three months away, you’re required to tell your employer at least one month in advance. However, it’s recommended that you tell them as soon as possible so that they’ll have time to arrange supporting staff in your absence.

What if you learn about your need to provide care for yourself of a family member with only a few days to spare?

You’re obligated to notify your employer as soon as you know. However, your FMLA can’t be denied as long as you weren’t withholding knowledge of an impending leave.

In the case of an emergency, FMLA guidelines allow you to notify your supervisor up to two days after you’re made aware of the need for leave.

For example, you’re forced to leave work after learning that your child has been in an auto accident. To do so, you elected to use personal or sick time. However, once you arrive at the hospital, you’re informed that your child will need ongoing attention for days or weeks.

While calling your employer might not be the first thing on your mind, do your best to notify them within two days that you’ll be away for an extended period. In some instances of family emergencies, your employer can help retroactively apply for FMLA to cover the sick or personal days lost.

The bottom line on notifying your employer? Tell your employer about your need for FMLA leave as soon as possible and, whenever possible, with at least 30 days notice.

2. Your employer will require that you fill out an FMLA form.

Your employer can require that you fill out and return the form within 15 days. But, before you leave this for the last minute, know that FMLA forms need to be completed, not just by you, but by a medical professional as well.

For example, if you’re taking FMLA leave to care for your mother, you’ll have 15 days to fill out the form yourself, and have your mother’s doctor complete their portion, before returning it to your employer for approval.

Note that one of the most frequent reasons for FMLA denial is that the required application wasn’t returned within 15 days, so it’s important to pay attention to this deadline.

If you think that the form will take longer due to a doctor’s inability to process it in time, make sure to give your employer some form of written notice that the application is being processed.

To be on the safe side, we recommend that you get a written acknowledgment each time your FMLA application changes hands—both from the doctor and your employer. Additionally, make sure that your written ‘receipt’ acknowledges the date and time that you’ve handed the application over. This covers your bases in the event that the doctor’s staff, or your employer, misplaces the required paperwork.

The bottom line on turning in the required FMLA form? Remember that you have 15 days to turn over your application and that it must be completed by both you, and a medical professional, at the time it’s turned in. To protect your right to take FMLA, get a written confirmation noting the date and time that you’ve done so, both when handing the documents to the doctor in charge and your employer.

Other Tips To Remember When Applying For FMLA Leave

If you’re going to be out for more than 30 days at a time, your employer can require an updated FMLA form—and every 30 days after that.

Also, if you took FMLA leave to cover your own illness or condition, your employer may ask that you complete a return to work medical exam to ensure that you’re well enough to come back. If this required, your employer must pay for the exam. And, in the event that you disagree with the results of the exam, you are entitled to get a second or third opinion.

Has your employer denied your FMLA application? The next post in our Family and Medical Leave Act series covers what steps you can take in the event of a denial.