The FMLA has eligibility limits (unless you tell your employees otherwise)

The vast majority of Americans think that the Family Medical Leave Act, commonly referred to as the FMLA, provides benefits to all employees in the United States, regardless of their employer or work history. This is a commonly held misconception. The FMLA actually only provides benefits for employees of employers that employ 50 or more people. Also, employers that are covered by the FMLA are only allowed to have a subset of employees who are eligible for FMLA leave.

Unfortunately, the FMLA eligibility limits described above are not widely understood. An employer that would like to make life easier for its employees and improve its marketability as an employer can provide benefits beyond the FMLA if desired. If an employer does not choose to pick up the slack where the FMLA support ends, employees will have to meet a certain set of criteria to be eligible for FMLA leave. The employee must have worked for the employer for a minimum of 12 nonconsecutive months. He must have worked at least 1,250 hours during those 12 months. He also must work at a location where his employer employs a minimum of 50 employees. However, if the employer does not employ 50 people at that particular job site but does reach the threshold when its locations within a 75-mile radius are considered, the employee will be eligible for FMLA leave.

It is imperative that employers make the FMLA’s criteria well known to both current employees and prospective employees. If an employer misrepresents the FMLA’s eligibility requirements and its own policies to employees, courts can hold the employer accountable. The court can force such an employer to abide by the benefits that it promised. This means that all employers have a very important decision to make. They must meet the FMLA’s minimum requirements and make it clear to their employees whether they will provide support beyond these standards. Those who decide to not offer benefits above and beyond the FMLA’s should review their leave policies with a fine-tooth comb to ensure that they are not promising any additional coverage.

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