Family and Medical Leave Act

What is the Family and Medical Leave Act?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was passed in 1993.  The FMLA requires employers to allow eligible employees to:  1) take up to 13 weeks of unpaid leave each year for the arrival of a new child; and, 2) deal with their own serious health condition or one of a family member.  Once the leave is over, employees are entitled to reinstatement. 

The FMLA only requires employers to provide unpaid leave.  An employer can also require an employee to use paid vacation in addition or in lieu of unpaid work.  Even though an employee does not have to be paid, he or she may keep health benefits.  If the employee does not return, the employer can seek to be reimbursed.       

Which Employers are covered

Employers with 50 or more employees are covered under the act and in Rhode Island. 

Which Employees are covered?

Employees who have worked an average of 30 or more hours a week for at least 12 consecutive months are eligible under Rhode Island law.  Moreover, mothers and fathers have equal rights under the FMLA. 

What is prohibited under the FMLA?

Employers cannot prevent employees from exercising their rights pursuant to the FMLA.  This means they cannot fire or retaliate in any way. 

How is the 12 month period calculated?

An employer can use any of the following methods for calculating the 12 month period:

  • The calendar year
  • Any fixed 12 month period
  • A 12 month period beginning on the first day the employer takes the leave
  • A 12 month period measured backward from the date the employee uses any FMLA leave. 

However, an employer must use the same method for calculating the 12 month period for all employees. 

Who can take leave to care for a family member?

Under the FMLA “family members” are defined as spouses, parents and children.  An employer may ask employees to provide certification from a health care provider to show that the family member is suffering from a serious health condition. 

Who can take leave to deal with their own health problem?

In order to take leave for an employee’s own health problem, an employee must: 1) be suffering from a serious health condition; and, 2) be unable to perform one or more of the essential duties of his or her job. 

  • Again, an employer can require certification from a health care provider. 

What are the penalties for failing to comply with the FMLA?

If an employer fails to comply with the FMLA, it can be liable for damages, including:

  • Lost wages
  • Lost benefits
  • Cost for providing care (if an employee needs to hire in-home care for a family member)
  • Interest
  • Attorneys’ fees


NOTE:  The Department of Labor estimates that seven million employees use the Family Medical Leave every year.  Moreover, almost a quarter of employees who take advantage of the Act use it intermittently. 

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