How to comply with FMLA requirements

What is FMLA leave?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that requires covered employers to grant leave to eligible employees for specific family or medical reasons. While a leave of absence covered by FMLA is not required to be paid, employers must continue to offer the employee health insurance coverage with no change in conditions and must guarantee the security of the employee’s job.

The details of the FMLA can be confusing, making determining eligibility and compliance a challenge. Determining eligibility and managing employee leaves of absence can be simplified by following this step-by-step process for complying with the FMLA.


1. Who must comply with FMLA?

First, determine if your company is required to offer FMLA leave.

  • Do you employ 50 or more employees?
  • Are the 50 or more employees working within a 75-mile radius of the worksite where the employee who has requested leave works?

If the answer to both questions is yes, the company must offer FMLA leave.

2. Who is eligible for FMLA leave?

Next, determine if the employee who is requesting FMLA leave is eligible.

  • Have they worked at least 12 months for at least 1,250 hours prior to the leave?
  • Do they have a qualifying reason to take the leave?

Once again, if the answer to both questions is yes, the company must grant the FMLA leave request.

3. What conditions qualify for FMLA?

Determine the qualifying reason for the leave request. The qualifying categories include:

  • Personal serious medical condition
  • Birth/placement and bonding with a child
  • Caring for a family member with a serious health condition
  • Active duty/qualifying exigency leave
  • Addressing certain qualifying exigencies (an urgent need or demand) relating to the military service of an employee’s family member
  • Caring for a family member who is a covered military service member (including a covered veteran) who has a serious injury or illness incurred in the line of duty

4. Provide the employee with an eligibility notice

The employer is required to let an employee know they may be eligible for FMLA leave, whether it has been requested or not. Within five business days of learning the employee’s potential eligibility for leave, the employer must provide the employee with a written rights and responsibilities notice.

5. Should you request medical certification?

If the reason for leave is a serious medical condition (either of the employee or an eligible family member), the employer may provide a request for medical certification to the employee at the same time as the rights and responsibility notice. If the employer chooses to request medical certification, they must make the request within five days of learning of the employee’s potential eligibility for leave. The employee has 15 calendar days to get the certification completed by a medical provider and returned to the employer.

If the leave is for the employee’s own serious medical condition, the employer may also require a medical certification at the end of the leave stating that the employee can safely return to work. If the employer is requesting such a certification, that must also be made clear at this point in the process.

6. Provide a designation notice

Once the completed medical certification is received, the employer assesses if the leave meets the requirements for a qualifying leave of absence. Within five business days of receiving the medical certification from the employee, the employer provides a designation notice to the employee stating whether the leave is approved or denied. If approved, the leave will be counted against their FMLA entitlement.

If the medical certification is unclear or incomplete, the employee should be given a minimum of seven calendar days to provide any further information needed to make a leave determination.

7. How long is FMLA leave?

FMLA leave is generally twelve weeks of unpaid leave per year (twelve-month period). You must be consistent in how you measure that annual time frame with all employees taking leave. You may measure by:

  • The calendar year (January 1st through December 31st)
  • A fixed twelve-month period sometimes referred to as a leave year (based on hire date, fiscal year, or any other consistent marker you choose)
  • Measuring forward from the date an employee’s FMLA leave begins
  • Measuring backyards from the date FMLA leave is taken for a rolling twelve-month time period (this prevents stacking of leave at the end of one year and the beginning of another)

8. Carefully monitor FMLA leave

During the leave, the employee should be required to update the company on their status regularly. Implement a clear policy for required check-ins (whether in person, by phone, or via video chat) and inform the employee of these requirements.

These basic steps for FMLA compliance provide guidance, but it is essential that you understand the details of the law to avoid confusion and possible violations. There may be additional requirements in the states where your employees work; ensure that you are also meeting any state and local leave laws or ADA requirements beyond the scope of the FMLA. Download our free in-depth employer guide to FMLA compliance that includes the information in this article as well as employer responsibilities, workers’ compensation considerations, ADA accommodations information, integration with state leave laws, curbing leave abuse, and additional resources.