The Family Medical Leave Act, known as FMLA, allows an employee up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in case of a prolonged personal or family illness. Those qualifying for the benefit are full-time employees who have worked at least 1,250 hours through the 12-month period preceding the unpaid leave. When an illness is prolonged, lasting beyond the 12-week period, an employer is not bound to hold a position open nor provide health benefits. However, there are some options.
Extending Leave Time
Most employers insist that employees who request FMLA use any accrued sick, personal and annual vacation time prior to utilizing the 12-week unpaid leave. This extends the time an employee is able to be away from work due to a personal or family illness. Whenever possible, give employers 30-days notice prior to taking leave, for instance when the leave is due to a scheduled surgery. Make sure to have your physician document the need for leave time. An employee and employer working together makes leave time run smoothly for the individual, and the business.
If you are unable to return to work after a 12-week unpaid leave, your employer may tell you that you no longer qualify for the regular health insurance offered by your company. However, the employer may offer you COBRA benefits so you are able to continue health insurance. COBRA benefits give former employees some temporary continuing coverage at group health rates. Prior to taking FMLA leave, ask your human resource department if this benefit is available should you be unable to return to work.
Working from Home
Notify your employer as soon as possible when you know you will not be able to return to work after a 12-week unpaid leave. You may be asked to present medical documentation that states why you are unable to return to work. While an employer is not required to hold your position beyond the 12-week period, some employers are willing to work out ways an employee can work from home, especially if the employee holds a key administrative position. You may be asked to show documentation of clearance from your doctor stating the scope of activities you are able to perform and the number of hours you are able to work at home.
Applying for Disability Benefits
If your illness or injury has caused you to become disabled, and you cannot return to work after a 12-week unpaid leave, you may be able to apply for some short- or long-term disability benefits. Local branch offices of the Social Security Administration have forms and counselors available to assist you in applying for benefits. You may be able to seek help from your local Department of Human Services, to apply for medical, food and living expense benefits if you are in need.