An HR Glossary for HR Terms

Glossary of Human Resources Management and Employee Benefit Terms

FMLA Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993

What is the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993?

Also known as FMLA, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 is a law requiring businesses to give employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave every year for health and family reasons.

There are a variety of reasons an employee is able to take unpaid leave under this act, including the birth of a child, care of a family member with a serious health condition, or care of a military service member in the family who has a serious health condition.

Though this type of leave is not paid, health care benefits must continue and the job is protected.

When Did the Family and Medical Leave Act Start?

The Family and Medical Leave Act was instituted on February 5, 1993.

The bill was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on this day, and the law took effect starting August 5, 1993. Various amendments were added to the law in 2008, 2010, and 2015 to clarify the definition of family members covered by the act.

Take a Permanent Vacation From Tracking PTO.

Power your PTO tracking with BambooHR's award-winning software. Our all-in-one platform automatically connects the dots between employees, managers, and payroll—saving time and preventing errors.

Get Your Free Demo Today!

Does FMLA Apply to Employers With Less Than 50 Employees?

According to the 50/75 rule, only companies with 50 or more employees within 75 miles of the company’s main work site must offer FMLA coverage to employees.

What Happens If an Employee is Not Eligible For FMLA?

If an employee is not eligible for FMLA but misses work, their employer may legally terminate them from their position. Employees are only eligible for FMLA if they:

Who Does the Family Medical Leave Act Cover?

Under federal law, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 only applies to immediate family, including parents, spouses, and children.

In 2008, amendments expanded FMLA coverage to next of kin and adult children. These rights are applicable to those in a same-sex marriage or common-law marriage.

Some states have expanded their definition of the immediate family to include grandparents, civil union partners, parents-in-law, and more.

How Long is the Family Medical Leave Act?

FMLA allows an employee to leave their job for up to 12 weeks.

The leave can be taken in one 12-week period all at once, or be taken as intermittent leave, under special circumstances.

Intermittent leave is allowed in a reduced amount with the birth of a child, or if an employee needs to leave for regular treatment or therapy during work hours.

Can You Lay Off an Employee on FMLA?

An employee can be laid off while on FMLA leave.

Under the law, FMLA gives an employee the right to return to their job after taking leave. But the job is not protected if the employee were to have been fired before or after leave anyway.

Because this can be a sticky situation, an employer should be careful to provide sound evidence that the layoff would have happened whether or not the employee took FMLA leave.

Can You Fire Someone After FMLA Leave?

An employer can never fire someone for taking FMLA leave, but their job may be terminated after they take the leave, in certain situations. Employers need to be aware of FMLA interference and retaliation claims.


If the termination was in the works well before the employee took leave, it may be safe to proceed. Here are some circumstances where it’s safe to fire an employee after FMLA leave:

You might also like

Companies with engaged workforces vastly outperform those without. What prevents us from engaging employees, and are there prhitical solutions to improve engagement?

Watch Now

The most successful individuals, teams, and organizations set clear goals to reach success. Goals help us achieve more, faster, with less. In the end, the benefits of goal setting lead to one outcome: better employee performance.

Download Now