When Are You Eligible for FMLA?

Eligible employees can use FMLA leave to care for family members.
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The Family and Medical Leave Act gives qualified employees of covered businesses an opportunity to take unpaid time off from work for personal and family medical reasons. One of the most common reasons FMLA leave is used is to recover from an illness or injury. Employees that meet the eligibility prerequisites can also apply for FMLA leave to care for a close family member. Employees must meet specific criteria to be eligible for FMLA benefits.

Covered Employers

To be eligible for FMLA benefits, the employee must work for a covered employer. FMLA regulations define a covered employer as a private business that employs 50 or more workers within 75 miles of one another. Public and government agencies, as well as public and private elementary and secondary schools, are covered employers, regardless of the number of employees.

Logging the Hours

U.S. workers are eligible for FMLA benefits if the employee has worked 1,250 hours in the previous 12 months for a covered employer. This 1,250 hours in a 12-month period works out to an average of slightly more than 24 hours a week. Seasonal employees who work full time part of the year can reach the 1,250-hour minimum by working 31.25 weeks, or approximately eight months. Regardless of how employees accumulate the hours, they must have logged all of them in the 12 months preceding the FMLA leave to be eligible.

Type of Employment

Individuals performing contract labor and employed by a noncovered business are not eligible for FMLA benefits regardless of the number of hours they worked for a covered business. For example, consider a small business, the QRS Consulting Agency, which uses the services of the same landscaping and maintenance crew year-round, the XYZ Groundskeepers. Though the grounds crew may log more than 1,250 hours at the job site, QRS is not their employer; XYZ is. Therefore, the contractors would not qualify for FMLA benefits through QRS.

Key Employees

A basic entitlement of employees eligible for FMLA is the right to return to the job following an approved leave of absence. However, according to FMLA regulations, the employer can make an exception for key employees. FMLA guidelines define a key employee as a salaried employee who is among the business's top paid 10 percent of all employees within the 75-mile eligibility radius. To make the exception, the employer must show that the business will suffer serious "economic injury" if the employee returns to the previous post.

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