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The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 helps employees balance work and family needs by allowing certain employees to take reasonable unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons.
Disclaimer: The American Cancer Society does not offer legal advice. This information is intended to provide general background in this area of the law.
You can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, protected leave per year if you:
Eligible employees can use FMLA for:
Some states have family and medical leave laws with broader rights (including wage replacement) than FMLA. The US Department of Labor can help you get information about your state.
Special FMLA rules
There are fact sheets available that explain special FMLA rules, such as those for:
Some states may have their own laws. Contact the US Department of Labor for state-specific information.
Most United States government employees are covered by FMLA or similar rules. Policies are managed by the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
You can take FMLA leave all at once or in shorter blocks. You can also reduce your daily hours or work a part-time schedule for a while. Remember, worker's compensation and maternity leave may count as FMLA. You’ll need a doctor’s note confirming a serious health condition and the need for leave.
A serious condition includes any illness, injury, or condition requiring inpatient care. This means at least one overnight stay in a hospital, hospice, or similar facility, and any period of incapacity afterward.
But it is not just hospital stays.It can also be a condition with ongoing treatment or any period of incapacity due to any of the following:
Under FMLA, immediate family includes the employee’s:
For military families in certain situations, the child, parent, or next of kin of an armed forces member can take FMLA to provide care for up to 26 work weeks.
Your employer can choose various methods, including:
FMLA only requires unpaid leave. You can choose to use accrued paid leave like vacation or sick leave. Your employer is also allowed to require it.
Give your employer 30 days’ notice if possible, especially for planned treatments. In emergencies, notify within 1 to 2 business days of when you know you’ll need leave.
If you are an eligible employee and meet the FMLA notice and certification requirements and haven’t used your FMLA leave for the 12-month period, you cannot be denied FMLA leave.
Any employee who lies or uses fraud to get FMLA leave loses their FMLA rights.
Employers cannot use FMLA leave to negatively affect your employment, promotions, or other actions. It can’t be counted in “no fault” attendance policies.
Employers are not required to continue FMLA benefits or give jobs back to employees who would have been laid off or otherwise would have lost their jobs due to a general layoff.
Employees who say they aren’t returning to work lose their FMLA rights. Employees who cannot return to work and have used up their 12 weeks of FMLA leave in the 12-month period lose FMLA protections of leave or getting their jobs back.
If an employer requires a medical statement that the employee is fit to return to work and the employee doesn’t get one, the employer can delay the employee’s return until they submit the required documentation.
Your employer must keep your health insurance coverage on the same terms while you’re on FMLA leave. You’ll need to make plans if you pay part of the premiums.
Your employer can make you repay premiums they paid while you were on FMLA if you don’t return to work after FMLA leave. But they can’t do this if your reason for not going back to work was your or your family member’s serious health condition.
Your employer does not have to continue your other benefits during FMLA.
Your employer can deny your continuing FMLA leave if you don’t provide the required medical certification (written information signed by your doctor). But the employer cannot require you return to work early by offering you a light duty assignment.
Other sources of information include:
United States Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division
Toll-free number: 1-866-487-9243 (1-866-4-USWAGE)
This site includes subsections with pages that explain more about FMLA, including how it impacts state law, employer policy variations, links to airline crew rules, specific changes for military families, and more.
Cancer and Careers
A resource for working people with cancer and their employers; offers articles, news, charts, check lists, tips, and a community of experts, patients, and survivors.
Cancer Legal Resource Center (CLRC)
Toll-free number: 1-866-843-2572 (1-866-THE-CLRC)
A non-profit program that gives free and confidential information and resources on cancer-related legal issues to cancer survivors, their families, friends, employers, health care professionals, and others coping with cancer.
*Inclusion on this list does not imply endorsement by the American Cancer Society
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
Family and medical leave act (FMLA). US Department of Labor. Updated February 2023. Accessed September 14th, 2023. https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/benefits-leave/fmla.
FMLA frequently asked questions. Labor Wage and Hour Division. US Department of Labor. Accessed September 14th, 2023. https://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/fmla-faqs.htm.
Labor Wage and Hour Division. U.S. Department of Labor. The Employer’s Guide to The Family and Medical Leave Act. 2022. Accessed September 14, 2023. https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/fmla/employer-guide.
Last Revised: September 30, 2023