In 1993 the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was enacted in large part to ensure those who need their jobs most would not lose them when they needed to take care of themselves or their family. This protection was put in place for employment purposes but what does it mean in regards to salary or vacation?
What is FMLA Qualifying Leave?
The FMLA provides covered employees with up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave a year and requires that health benefits must continue for the employee and the family. The employer must continue to pay its share of the employee’s health care benefits during the employee’s leave. The employee will maintain his/her health benefits by continuing to pay for his/her share of them.
Is FMLA Qualifying Leave Paid or Unpaid Leave?
FMLA-qualifying leave is not paid leave. Employees will not receive a salary while on leave, unless that is something the employee and employer work out privately. The FMLA does not require the employer to pay the employee. Employers may insist the employee use his or her vacation time or other accrued paid leave while on FMLA leave. The employer’s HR department can provide information on whether this is required or not as companies have their own rules on using vacation and the FMLA gives the employer to option to require that paid leave be exhausted concurrently with the FMLA-Qualifying leave. Even if the company doesn’t require it, opting to use paid time off benefits available through your employer’s policies can help offset the cost of going without pay while on leave.
Employees do not accrue seniority or vacation in their absence. Service time essentially freezes, unless otherwise arranged with your employer.
Some companies offer cash payments for employees who opt out of the company health care program. These cash payments do not have to be continued during FMLA leave. Other benefits such as life insurance may be continued as long as the employee maintains fiscal responsibility for the plan and pays for it. This is extremely important, particularly if the employee is facing a life-threatening illness. It’s easy to forget about these payments but they’re necessary if the employee wants to retain the benefit. The employer may decide to take on the employee’s responsibility so it’s important to understand what the company policy is on additional benefits.
FMLA leave is not considered a “life-changing” event for most company benefits plans, so if the employee lets the benefits lapse during leave, s/he will need to wait until the next open enrollment time before being able to reinstate them. That’s why some employers choose to cover the employee’s responsibility so that the employee may keep the level of benefit they had upon return. When leave ends, the employer may recover the employee’s share of premiums it paid to maintain other “non-health” benefits during the employee’s unpaid FMLA leave.
If you’ve been out on FMLA leave and you were fired upon return or your company refused to pay its portion of your health care benefits, or you do not return to work at the end of your leave, you need to know your rights.
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