Family Medical Leave & IBD
When Dan had his blockage in 2011, I was just starting a new job. I was four months in and hadn’t been there long enough to be able to take much time off. I was lucky that my employer allowed me to alter my schedule for two weeks to work from home and take time off to take care of Dan, but not all caregivers are as lucky as I am.
For those who don’t have flexible options for time off to take care of a loved one, there’s the Family Medical Leave Act.
I had the privilege of working for the man behind the Family Medical Leave Act, former U.S. Senator Chris Dodd, for two years until his retirement in 2011.
Here’s the story behind FMLA in Senator Dodd’s own words from a 2008 op-ed in The Hill:
“It wasn’t so long ago that trying to get time off could get you fired.
That’s what I learned from Eva Bunnell when I met her at church in East Haddam, Conn., in 1989. Eva’s daughter Jacinta had been born with a rare brain disease and was fighting for her life in the ICU. Her husband asked his employer for time off to be at the side of his wife and baby. And he was told to never come back leaving the family without an income, without health insurance, and almost without hope.
Fortunately, doctors were able to save Eva’s daughter. But the sad truth is that, before the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), stories like Eva’s were a fact of American working life. New mothers would return to work after the birth of their child to find that they had been replaced; a husband could face demotion if he stayed home to care for his ailing wife.”
Now, thanks to FMLA, caregivers are able to take time off to take care of their ailing loved one without fear of losing their life.
WHAT IS FMLA LEAVE?
According to the U.S. Department of Labor,
“…FMLA entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave.”
Employees eligible for FMLA are entitled to (among other things):
- 12 workweeks of leave in a 12-month period to care for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition, among other things; a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job; or
- 26 workweeks of leave during a single 12-month period to care for a covered servicemember with a serious injury or illness if the employee is the servicemember’s spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin (military caregiver leave).
Additionally, under FMLA, employees are able to continue to use FMLA leave for any period of incapacity or treatment due to a chronic serious health condition. Under FMLA, a chronic serious health condition is defined as “an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that involves inpatient care or continuing treatment by a health care provider.”
A chronic serious health condition is also one that:
- requires periodic visits (at least twice a year) for treatment by a health care provider or nurse;
- continues over an extended period of time; and
- may cause episodic rather than continuing periods of incapacity.
FMLA applies to all public agencies, including state, local and federal employers, local education agencies (schools), and private-sector employers who employed 50 or more employees in 20 or more workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year.
Additionally, a covered employer must maintain group health insurance coverage for an employee on FMLA leave whenever insurance was provided before the leave was taken and on the same terms as if the employee had continued to work.
One important thing to note again: FMLA, for the most part, is UNPAID. So while it provides you job security it does not provide you with an income while you are out. Some employers do have paid FMLA, but most do not.
AM I ELIGIBLE?
There are eligibility requirements for FMLA. To be eligible, you must:
- work for a covered employer (see above);
- have worked for that employer for a total of 12 months;
- have worked at least 1,250 hours over the previous 12 months; and
- work at a location in the U.S. or in any territory or possession of the U.S. where at least 50 employees are employed by the employer within 75 miles.
HOW DO I APPLY FOR FMLA?
It depends on your employer how you apply for FMLA leave, so I can’t tell you what you can do. The one thing I can say is that you need to start with your human resources office or finance staff (if you don’t have an HR office). They can provide you with the forms you’ll need to fill out and help you figure out if you are eligible for leave. The below graphic shows you the process one employer takes for FMLA.
THE BOTTOM LINE
IBD-ers have a saving grace in FMLA. I would talk toy our employer to find out if you may qualify for FMLA leave. With the unpredictability of IBD, you never know when you might need to take leave. You don’t want to be left having to go through this process last minute when something happens.