When Does FMLA StartUnder the Family and Medical Leave Act, employees are eligible to care for themselves, or a spouse, parent, or child who is coping with an illness or medical condition. Here are your three main benefits under FMLA:

FMLA Benefit #1-A: You can get up to 12 weeks of unpaid FMLA leave.

Under FMLA, employees are granted up to 12 weeks to care for themselves or a family member. However, those 12 weeks don’t have to be taken all at the same time. Instead, your FMLA can be broken down into the same increments as you’re paid.

For example, if you’re paid hourly, your 12 weeks can be broken down into hours. This means that you can take one hour of FMLA at a time, 40 hours at a time, or all 12 weeks at once.

Additionally, if you’re a full-time employee who works eight hours per day, 40-hours per week, you’re eligible for 480 hours of FMLA within a 12-month period. (More on the 12-months shortly.)

Here are some ways that FMLA can be useful when broken down into hours:

  • If your child has asthma and suffers attacks each week that require you to be absent for three hours at a time, you are eligible to take those hours each week to deal with your child’s condition. Three hours multiplied by 50 weeks (subtracting two weeks for vacation), comes out to 150 FMLA hours every 12 months—meaning that you’re well within the allotted 480 hours.
  • If you’re coping with a serious medical condition that requires weekly visits for treatment but need the entire day to recuperate, you would be eligible to take one day each week. Eight hours multiplied by 50 weeks (again, subtracting two weeks for vacation), is 400 FMLA hours every 12 months—still within the 480 hours.

Note that FMLA can only be broken down into hours by employees who are paid hourly. This means that salaried employees who are paid weekly may only be able to take FMLA one week at a time.

FMLA Benefit #1-B: Those 12 Weeks are within a 12 month period.

Employees are eligible for 12 weeks unpaid leave under FMLA for every 12-month period. However, there are two ways that employers can define a 12-month period:

  • Traditional Calendar Year: Some employers can define 12 months as a calendar year, from January to December. This means that, technically, you could take your first 12 weeks of unpaid leave at the end of one year, then begin an additional 12 weeks at the start of the next, allowing for 24 weeks of unpaid leave total.
  • Rolling Calendar Year: Many employers use what’s called a “rolling calendar year” to negate the possibility of their employees being away for up to six months. What this means is that your 12-month period begins the day of your first FMLA usage, whether that’s December 30th or May 5th.

FMLA Benefit #2: You can come back to your job.

A key benefit of the Family and Medical Leave Act is that you can return to your same job, or the equivalent, at the end of your FMLA leave. By equivalent, the law dictates that your new position be identical to the one you had before FMLA, including the same duties, the same shift, the same hours, and the same work conditions.

FMLA Benefit #3: You can keep your health care benefits while on FMLA leave.

Because taking a break from work for medical reasons generally means that you can’t afford any interruptions in your health care coverage, know that employees keep their benefits while on FMLA.

The law states that whatever your usual health care benefits are, those continue without any changes. This means that:

  • If you normally have full health care benefits, those will continue.
  • If you normally pay an amount for health care coverage each month to split the cost with your employer, you must continue paying.
  • However, if you don’t have medical coverage with your current employer, that will continue as well.

The essence of the law is that your employer can’t change your health care benefits while you’re out on FMLA leave; whatever you got before will continue while you’re out.

Would FMLA benefits help you care for yourself or a family member? Continue on to learn how to apply for FMLA, and what additional rights are afforded to California employees.