Simply stated, FMLA guarantees employees that they can take up to 12 weeks of either family leave (to handle adoption proceedings, for example) or medical leave (to take care of a recuperating parent) per year. Anyone who has worked for an employer for at least 1,250 hours and 12 months is entitled to leave under FMLA. Employees can take both family and medical leave during the year, but the total amount of time cannot exceed 12 weeks. If an employee requesting leave under FMLA has accrued sick time and vacation time, the employer can require that this time be included in the 12-week leave. In other words, if an employee has two weeks of paid vacation time accrued, he or she cannot automatically take those two weeks and an additional 12 weeks; the employer can be generous and allow that but is not obligated to do so.
Under FMLA, the employee taking leave is entitled to reinstatement upon returning to work. If the employee’s old job is not available, he or she is entitled to another job at a similar level of responsibility. A company cannot punish an employee who takes FMLA leave by firing or demoting that person simply for taking the time off.
It is important to understand that FMLA is not an extended personal leave program Employers have a right to know the specific reasons the employee is applying for leave under FMLA. If an employee requests leave because of illness, the employer has a right to ask for proof from a physician. Moreover, the employer also has a right to ask for proof from a physician that an employee is able to return to work.