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FAMILY MEDICAL LEAVE ACT

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When a new baby arrives or a parent becomes ill, you want to be with them. But it isn't always easy to get time off work. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 addresses that concern.

The law takes effect Aug. 5, for most employers. Under this new law, an employee is allowed up to 12 weeks a year of unpaid time off from work. You can use it if you'll be having a baby or adopting, if you need to care for a sick member of your immediate family, or if you, yourself, are ill.Upon returning to work you must be reinstated in your old job or an equivalent position with the same pay, benefits and seniority as when you left.

Who's entitled to FMLA coverage? Private employers are subject to the law if they employ at least 50 workers over 20 weeks in the current or preceding year.

If you work in a small regional office with a handful of employees, you would be covered if it's part of a larger company located less than 75 miles away.

All federal, state and local government employees, regardless of location, are also eligible for FMLA leave.

In any case, you must have been employed at least 12 months by a covered employer and worked at least 1,250 hours (about 24 hours a week) for that employer during the previous year.

There are exceptions. If you're in the top 10 percent of the company's pay scale, you may be defined as a "key" employee and FMLA does not guarantee your reinstatement rights. If you fall into this category, however, you must be told of your "key" status when you first put in for FMLA leave.

Later, if your employer decides your job cannot remain vacant, you must be given immediate notice along with the opportunity to end your leave and return to work.

What if you only need to cut back on your schedule for awhile, and not stop working completely?

FMLA leave allows you to take a total of 12 work weeks but it can be spread out. For example, you may decide to work half days for a few months, or only go in two or three days a week until you're ready to return full time.

Unless it's medically necessary, however, you need your employer's approval to do so.

Certain conditions may apply. For example, if you know in advance you'll be requesting time off, such as for childbirth, you need to give your employer a 30-day advance notice. If you're taking leave because either you or an immediate family member are seriously ill, you may need to submit medical certification. You may also be required to get a second or third doctor's opinion, and provide updates of your status and plans to return to work.

Because there are varying rules and exceptions for special circumstances, you'll want to know exactly how FMLA applies to you.

For more information, contact the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor.