How to Protect Your Health and Job With the FMLA

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FMLA coverage can make recovering from surgery less stressful.

Last year, nearly 13 percent of eligible employees used the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for an average of 28 days each, according to a Datamatics infographic. More than 57 percent of employees who took this leave stated it was for their own medical conditions. The FMLA is available to make sure you get time off from work to address a medical situation, with low risk of losing your job. Know when and how to leverage the FMLA to take care of your health away from work.

FMLA coverage can make recovering from surgery less stressful.
FMLA coverage can make recovering from surgery less stressful.

FMLA Basics

The FMLA entitles you to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave over a 12-month period to take care of a medical condition, according to FMLASource.com. You can take this consecutively, or at different times during the year. Your company must have at least 50 employees, and you must be employed by the company for at least 12 months for FMLA to be available to you.

When to Use the FMLA?


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Let’s say you felt a sudden pain in your lower back from lifting a box while cleaning out your basement. Your doctor diagnosed it as a herniated disc. Almost 80 percent of people who have minimally invasive back surgery recover after two weeks, says the Laser Spine Institute. You may need two weeks (or more depending on your situation) off work to recover from your back injury.

At work, you may have accrued paid sick time, vacation time and/or personal leave time. The FMLA does not require employers to pay you while you are out. You’ll want to determine the best mix of time off that works for your situation.

Some employers require you to use your paid leave before you tap into the FMLA. Others let you mix it up. For example, if you cannot afford to take unpaid leave to recover from your back injury, using your sick time or vacation time might be right for you. Or if you have a long family vacation already planned in a few months, the FMLA might be the best option to keep your vacation time untouched. You could also use your sick time for the initial medical procedure, then use the FMLA for subsequent appointments and time out for physical therapy. Have a good understanding of the timeline for your recovery, then determine the best way to cover that with all of your paid and unpaid options.

The Downside of the FMLA

When deciding if using the FMLA is right for you, talk to your HR representative about their reinstatement policy. U.S. News Money states while you are guaranteed a job when you come back from an FMLA, you are not guaranteed the “same” job. Your employer must put you into a similar role with the same pay and benefits.

Should you be gone for one month, your company may have to fill your job with someone to keep the business rolling smoothly. When you come back to work, they might put you into a role in another area. This may be one reason you choose to not use the FMLA for time off.

When talking with HR about reinstatement, also find out the minimum time needed to notify the company about your intention to use the FMLA and when you will be coming back.

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I was given $1,000 to invest in the stock market as a graduation present and have been hooked to the complexities surrounding today's market Recent College graduate with a degree in financial economics. Currently trying my hand in the marketing world. Strong interest in resources economics and sustainable management practices.

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