How FMLA Supports Caregiving

My paid job, that supports Lynn and me, is as a Human Resources Director of Employee Relations.  As part of that role, I am responsible for keeping up with employment law.  One of the laws often misunderstood by employees is the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  While from the employer perspective this law is a thorn in their sides, from an employee perspective this law can provide you with the ability to care for your loved one without being punished for taking time off.

When many people hear about FMLA it is in relation to having time off when a new child arrives in the family either to recover from childbirth or to adjust to being a parent.  However, it’s more than just a law for new parents. Where it can especially be useful is for those people who need to miss time from work intermittently to care for a parent, spouse, child, or themselves due to a serious health condition.  Multiple Sclerosis is included as one of the conditions that is considered a serious health condition.
The provisions of FMLA say that you cannot face disciplinary action (including termination of employment) if you need to miss time from work to provide “care or support” for your immediate family member with MS…at least for a while.  It does have its limits. If you work full time you can have up to 480 hours off, without pay, each 360 days.  The 480 hours does not have to be taken all at once. It can be taken in as small as 15 minute increments if your employer counts its work time in that small of an increment which is the standard for most jobs (meaning you’re paid for each 15 minute period you work).  You can also take the time off with pay if your company has a paid vacation or personal leave policy.  In other words, if they allow you to take time off using paid leave to take your car to the shop for repairs; they have to allow you time off to take care of your spouse using that same leave.
You can use FMLA for any reason that meets the definition of care or support.  The obvious ones are to take your spouse to medical appointments, bathing and dressing them, helping with therapy, etc. But you can also use it to clean your parent’s house if they physically cannot, run their errands if they cannot drive, provide emotional support, and take care of their banking, etc. if they cannot do it themselves. The only thing to keep in mind is that you only have 480 hours each 12 month period.  Once you use it up, it’s gone till the year starts over again.  It’s also one of those situations where if you don’t use it, you lose it.  You can’t carry it over to the next year so that you can be off for an even longer period.
There are, of course, some rules you have to follow.  First, you must prove that you qualify for this law’s protection.  You must have been with your employer for 12 months though the 12-months does not have to be continuous.  Second, you must have worked at least 1,250 hours in the 12-months just prior to when you need to take the time off.  1,250 hours is about 31 weeks or almost 8 months if you miss no time and are working 40 hours a week.  The other point is that if you don’t work 40 hours a week, you are not entitled to as much time off.  If you want to know how much time you’re allowed, here’s the calculation.
Number of hours you work per week /40 (divided by).  That gives you a percent. (Example 30/40=.75) You take that percent and multiply it by 480 to find out how many hours you can have off.  (Example 480 x .75 = 360 hours)
Once you’re qualified then you have to provide medical documentation that you or your spouse, parent, or child has a serious health condition. Usually your employer has a form for you to take to your healthcare provider for him/her to complete.  Your healthcare provider and you should talk about how often you will need to be available to support your family member. I recommend estimating on the high side to be safe but also be realistic.  For example, you might need an hour each morning to get your loved one ready for the day.  That would be five hours per week but do you also on a fairly regular basis need to take several hours off for medical appointments or to run errands?  If you can’t do these things outside of work time and have to do them during working hours, include that time.  Just remember, when it’s used up, it’s gone AND you’re likely using your vacation time up to earn pay for this time.  Many employees assume because they have to be given the time off, their employer has to pay them extra pay above vacation time to provide this care.  That is not true. The law only protects your job and access to your benefits.  It does not provide for pay.
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