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Are You Eligible for FMLA Leave?

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By Andrew Lu on July 20, 2012 6:55 AM

There's a tall tale among many employees that if they get sick or simply want time off work, they can automatically receive an FMLA leave of absence.

In almost every office, there are rumors that someone was able to receive months off work for any reason like stress or just needing a vacation simply by saying F-M-L-A.

However, the reality is that the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is not an automatic route to time off. In fact, to the contrary, it's extremely difficult to be eligible for FMLA leave.

Right off the bat, employees for small employers should know that they have no right to FMLA leave. You or your child may be suffering from the most horrific injury or disease, and you would be entitled to zero days leave under the FMLA. That's because the FMLA only applies to large employers (usually those with more than 50 employees). So if you work for a mom-and-pop, you likely are not eligible for FMLA leave.

Next, even if you work for a big corporation, you should be aware that it is not easy qualifying for leave. You generally need to be employed for over a year and have worked a certain number of hours (1,250 hours) in that year. So new and part-time employees, probably are not eligible for leave.

Also, even if you pass these two hurdles, the FMLA only applies to employees who need to attend to a "serious health condition." And when the FMLA says "serious," they mean it. Headaches, allergies, stress, and even broken bones probably won't cut it. Instead, think long-term health conditions and conditions that require hospitalization.

There's a rumor that anyone can be eligible for FMLA leave. But that's simply not true. The FMLA provides 12 weeks of protected time off work, but the law also sets extremely high hurdles to qualify for this leave.

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