The Essential Guide to Family & Medical Leave

What you need to know about the FMLA, whether your workers are on-site or remote

Meet your company's legal obligations while helping employees balance work and family needs. The Essential Guide to Family & Medical Leave provides all the information you need on:

  • who qualifies for leave
  • how much leave employees can take
  • employee and employer notice obligations
  • and much more

Comes with forms and checklists to help you administer leave!

Available as part of Nolo's Human Resources Bundle

  • Product Details
  • The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) helps employees balance the demands of work and family. But the law can be hard for employers to apply in the real world—especially when it comes to tracking intermittent leave, completing the proper paperwork, and determining eligibility for different types of leave.

    This book has the answers—in plain English—to every employer’s tough questions about the FMLA. It provides detailed information, sample forms, and tools that will help you and your managers figure out:

    • who is eligible for leave
    • what types of leave are covered
    • how much leave employees may take, and
    • how to comply with notice and other paperwork requirements.

    The 7th edition covers all of the latest changes to the FMLA as well as changes to state family and medical leave laws.

    “Useful, concise information for anyone needing to understand the Family and Medical Leave Act…”—Booklist

    “An easy-to-read-and-apply guide for all your FMLA questions. ”—Caron Pearce, Human Resource Director, Excelligence Learning Corporation


    Number of Pages
    Included Forms

    These forms are accessible online. After purchase, you'll find the link in Appendix C.

    • FMLA Policy
    • FMLA Leave to Care for a Family Member
    • FMLA Hours Worked
    • FMLA Leave Tracking
    • Request for Medical Certification
    • Notice to Key Employee of Substantial and Grievous Economic Injury
    • Notice of Termination of Group Health Coverage
    • Family and Medical Leave Act Poster (English)
    • Family and Medical Leave Act Poster (Spanish)
    • Notice of Eligibility & Rights and Responsibilities (Family and Medical Leave Act)
    • Designation Notice (Family and Medical Leave Act)
    • Certification of Health Care Provider for Employee’s Serious Health Condition
    • Certification of Health Care Provider for Family Member’s Serious Health Condition
    • Certification for Military Family Leave for Qualifying Exigency
    • Certification of Serious Injury or Illness of a Current Servicemember for Military Caregiver Leave
    • Certification for Serious Illness or Injury of a Veteran for Military Caregiver Leave
    • Manager’s Checklist: Does the FMLA Apply to My Company?
    • Manager’s Checklist: Is the Employee Eligible for FMLA Leave?
    • Manager’s Checklist: Leave for a New Child
    • Manager’s Checklist: Military Family Leave
    • Manager’s Checklist: Duration of Leave
    • Manager’s Checklist: Giving Notice and Designating Leave
    • Manager’s Checklist: Certifications
    • Manager’s Checklist: Managing FMLA Leave
    • Manager’s Checklist: Reinstating an Employee
    • Manager’s Checklist: If an Employee Doesn’t Return From Leave
    • Manager’s Checklist: Employee Record Keeping
    • Calculating Intermittent/Reduced-Schedule Leave
  • About the Author
  • Table of Contents
  • 1. An Overview of Family and Medical Leave

    • What the FMLA Requires
    • Your Obligations as a Manager
    • How Other Laws and Company Policies Come Into Play
    • How to Use This Book

    2. Is Your Company Covered by the FMLA?

    • Calculating the Size of Your Company
    • Joint Employers and the FMLA
    • If Your Company Is Covered by the FMLA
    • Common Mistakes Regarding Employer Coverage—And How to Avoid Them

    3. Is the Employee Covered by the FMLA?

    • Employee Eligibility, Step by Step
    • Keeping Track of Employees’ Work Hours
    • Common Mistakes Regarding Employee Coverage—And How to Avoid Them

    4. Leave for a Serious Health Condition

    • Your Role in Identifying a Serious Health Condition
    • What Is a Serious Health Condition?
    • Leave for Employee’s Own Serious Health Condition
    • Leave for a Family Member’s Serious Health Condition
    • Common Mistakes Regarding Serious Health Conditions—And How to Avoid Them

    5. Leave for a New Child

    • Leave for Birth
    • Leave for Adoption
    • Leave for Placement of a Foster Child
    • Parental Certifications
    • Timing of Parenting Leave
    • Intermittent or Reduced-Schedule Leave
    • Substitution of Paid Leave
    • Parents Who Work for the Same Company
    • Combining Parenting Leave With Leave for a Serious Health Condition
    • Common Mistakes Regarding Leave for a New Child—And How to Avoid Them

    6. Military Family Leave

    • Leave for a Qualifying Exigency
    • Leave to Care for an Injured Servicemenber
    • Common Mistakes Regarding Military Family Leave—And How to Avoid Them

    7. How Much Leave Can an Employee Take?

    • Counting the 12-Month Leave Year
    • How Many Weeks May an Employee Take?
    • Counting Time Off as FMLA Leave
    • Intermittent and Reduced-Schedule Leave
    • Common Mistakes Regarding Leave Duration—And How to Avoid Them

    8. Giving Notice and Designating Leave

    • Counting Time Off as FMLA Leave
    • Individual Notice Requirements
    • Employee Notice Requirements
    • Common Mistakes Regarding Giving Notice and Designating Leave—And How to Avoid Them

    9. Certifications

    • Types of Certifications
    • Requesting Certification
    • After You Receive the Certification
    • Common Mistakes Regarding Medical Certifications—And How to Avoid Them

    10. Managing an Employee’s Leave

    • Scheduling an Employee’s Leave
    • Covering an Employee’s Duties During Leave
    • Continuing Employee Benefits During Leave
    • Managing Intermittent Leave
    • Requesting Status Reports
    • Disciplining or Firing an Employee During Leave
    • Common Mistakes Regarding Managing Leave—And How to Avoid Them

    11. Reinstatement

    • The Basic Reinstatement Right
    • Fitness-for-Duty Certifications
    • Restoring Pay and Benefits
    • When Reinstatement Might Not Be Required
    • When Employees Don’t Return From Leave
    • Common Mistakes Regarding Reinstatement—And How to Avoid Them

    12. How Other Laws Affect FMLA Leave

    • Federal Laws That Can Overlap With the FMLA
    • State Laws That Can Overlap With the FMLA
    • Common Mistakes Regarding Other Laws and Benefits—And How to Avoid Them

    13. Record-Keeping Requirements

    • Why You Should Keep Records
    • Keeping Track of Company Workforce FMLA Data
    • Individual Employee Records
    • Medical Records
    • Review by the Department of Labor (DOL)
    • Now You’re Ready!
    • Common Mistakes Regarding Record Keeping—And How to Avoid Them


    A: State Laws on Family and Medical Leave

    B: Company Policies Regarding FMLA Leave

    • Family and Medical Leave Policy
    • How Your FMLA Policy Affects Company Obligations

    C: How to Use the Downloadable Forms on the Nolo Website

    • Editing the RTFs
    • List of Forms and Podcasts


  • Sample Chapter
  • Chapter 1
    An Overview of Family and Medical Leave

    The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a law with an undeniably noble purpose: to help employees balance the demands of work with personal and family needs. Since the FMLA was enacted in 1993, millions of employees have relied on it to protect their jobs while taking time off to recover from a serious illness, care for an ailing family member, or bond with a new child. The FMLA has been amended several times since its enactment. In 2008, for instance, the law was expanded to allow military family leave. And in 2020, Congress temporarily expanded the FMLA to allow parents to take paid leave to care for children whose school or care provider was closed or unavailable due to COVID-19 (these provisions have since expired).

    Surveys consistently show that the FMLA has not had a negative impact on business growth or profitability. In a 2018 survey by the federal Department of Labor, for example, more than 95% of responding employers said that complying with the FMLA had either a positive or neutral effect on their companies. In the same survey, more than 90% of those responding reported no difficulty in complying with the FMLA’s requirements.

    At the same time, surveys also reveal that employers find some parts of the law confusing. In 2020, the Department of Labor issued a Request for Information seeking input on certain regulations interpreting the FMLA. In response, the Society for Human Resource Management wrote that its members have reported challenges in tracking and managing intermittent leave, determining whether an employee has a serious health condition, and dealing with late or incomplete employee notice regarding the need for leave, among other things.

    Experience has shown that it can be difficult to apply the FMLA when dealing with real employees in the real world. For example, do you know what to do in the following situations?

    • An employee who needs leave is also covered by workers’ compensation, a state family and medical leave law, and/or the Americans with Disabilities Act—and the requirements of those laws appear to conflict with the FMLA.
    • An employee asks for time off but won’t tell you why or is reluctant to reveal personal medical information that might entitle the employee to leave.
    • An employee wants to take FMLA leave at your company’s busiest time of year.
    • An employee wants to take time off as needed for a chronic ailment, and can’t comply with your company’s usual call-in procedures.
    • An employee doesn’t give exactly the right amount or type of notice, hands in a medical certification form late, or can’t return to work as scheduled.
    • An employee decides, after taking FMLA leave, not to return to work.

    These issues—and many more like them—come up every day, and managers have to figure out how to handle them legally and fairly, while protecting the interests of their companies. While it can be tricky to figure out what to do in a particular situation, this book’s step-by-step approach will help you sort things out and meet your obligations.

    In this chapter, we introduce the FMLA’s basic requirements, with special emphasis on your responsibilities as a manager. We explain how other laws and company policies can affect your obligations under the FMLA. And we’ll provide a roadmap to the rest of the book, so you’ll be able to easily find the answers to all your FMLA questions.

    What the FMLA Requires

    In a nutshell, the FMLA requires larger companies to allow employees to take time off to fulfill certain caretaking responsibilities or to recuperate from serious health problems. If your company is covered by the law, eligible employees are entitled to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave every 12 months to bond with a new child, recover from their own serious health condition, care for a close family member with a serious health condition, or handle qualifying exigencies arising from a family member’s military duty.

    The FMLA provides a separate entitlement for military caregiver leave. Employees may take up to 26 weeks of leave, within a single 12-month period, to care for a family member who incurs or aggravates a serious illness or injury in the line of duty while on active military duty. However, this provision doesn’t renew every year like the 12-week leave provisions described above. Instead, it is available only once per servicemember, per injury. Employees who are entitled to this military caregiver leave may also take other types of FMLA leave, but they can take no more than 26 weeks off, total, in a single 12-month period for all types of FMLA leave.

    Tax Credits for Employers That Offered COVID-Related Leave

    In March of 2020, Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which created two temporary paid leave programs:

    • Emergency paid sick leave was available for up to two weeks for employees in quarantine or isolation; employees with COVID-19 symptoms; employees caring for ill, isolating, or quarantining family members; and employees caring for children whose school, care facility, or other daycare provider was closed or unavailable due to COVID-related concerns. This leave was paid up to a cap of $511 per day for the employee’s own health concerns, and $200 per day for employees caring for children or other family members.
    • Public health emergency leave was available for up to 12 weeks to employees who couldn’t work (or work from home) because they were caring for children whose school, care facility, or other daycare provider was closed or unavailable due to COVID-19. This provision was an amendment to the FMLA, although different eligibility requirements applied. The leave was unpaid for the first two weeks, then paid up to a cap of $200 per day.

    Under the law, employers could obtain reimbursement of the costs of providing leave through refundable tax credits. While the FFCRA expired at the end of 2020, employers who continued to voluntarily provide paid leave for COVID-related reasons (including vaccination) were eligible for tax credits through September 30, 2021.

    In addition to this COVID-specific tax credit, employers who provide paid family and medical leave could qualify for a tax credit equal to a percentage of the wages they paid the employee on leave. To claim this credit (available for tax years through 2025), employers must have a written leave policy and employees must be using leave for an FMLA-qualifying reason, among other requirements. To learn more, see the IRS’s FAQ on this provision, Section 45S, at

    FMLA leave is unpaid, although an employee may choose—or the company may require them—to use up accrued paid leave, such as sick leave or vacation, during this time off. Some states provide for paid family and medical leave (covered in Chapter 12). Although Congress has considered bills that would require private employers to offer paid FMLA leave, none have passed (with the exception of emergency leave for the coronavirus pandemic, which expired at the end of 2020).

    The employer must continue the employee’s group health coverage during FMLA leave. When the employee’s leave is over, the employee must be reinstated to the same position or an equivalent position, with the same benefits the employee had before taking time off. Although there are a few exceptions to this requirement, they apply only in very limited circumstances.

    Special rules apply to public employers and schools. The FMLA imposes slightly different obligations on government employers and schools, which we don’t cover in this book. Similarly, in unionized workplaces, a collective bargaining agreement—the contract between the company and the union—might impose different family and medical leave obligations.

    Your Obligations as a Manager

    The moment an employee comes to your office and says, “My wife is having a baby,” “My mother has to have surgery,” “My son was injured during military service,” or “I’ve been diagnosed with cancer,” you’ll have to figure out whether the FMLA applies, provide notices and meet other paperwork requirements, manage the employee’s time off, and reinstate the employee according to strict rules and guidelines.

    Ten Steps to FMLA Compliance

    Whenever you’re faced with a leave situation that might be covered by the FMLA, you should ask yourself the questions listed below. This checklist will help you make sure that you meet all your legal obligations and don’t forget anything important. Each of these topics is covered in detail in this book.

    Step 1: Is your company covered by the FMLA? The answer is yes if it’s had at least 50 employees for at least 20 weeks in the current or previous year. Covered companies must post a notice and might have to provide written notice to employees, even before an employee requests leave. Company coverage is explained in Chapter 2.

    Step 2: Is the employee covered by the FMLA? An employee who has worked for at least 12 months, and at least 1,250 hours during the year before taking leave, at a company facility that has at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius, is covered. Chapter 3 explains how to make these calculations—including how to figure out where remote employees “work” for purposes of the FMLA.

    Step 3: Does the employee need leave for a reason covered by the FMLA? Leave is available for the employee’s own serious health condition or to care for a family member with a serious health condition, as explained in Chapter 4. Leave is also available to bond with a new child, which is covered in Chapter 5. Military family leave—for a qualifying exigency related to a family member’s military service or to care for a family member who suffers a service-related illness or injury—is also covered by the FMLA; see Chapter 6.

    Step 4: How much leave is available to the employee? An employee is entitled to take a total of 12 workweeks of leave in a 12-month period, either all at once or intermittently, to bond with a new child, handle qualifying exigencies relating to a family member’s military service, care for a family member with a serious health condition, or recuperate from a serious health condition. An employee who needs military caregiver leave is entitled to up to 26 weeks off in a single 12-month period. Chapter 7 will help you figure out how much leave an employee may take.

    Step 5: Did you and the employee meet your notice and paperwork requirements? The employee must give reasonable notice and provide certain information; you must designate FMLA leave and give the employee required notices, among other things. Chapter 8 provides the details.

    Step 6: Did you request a certification (and if so, did the employee return it)? You can—and should—ask an employee who needs leave for a serious health condition, a serious illness or injury to a servicemember, or a qualifying exigency related to a family member’s military service, to complete a certification form. Chapter 9 explains how.

    Step 7: Did you successfully manage the employee’s leave? You must continue the employee’s health benefits, manage and track intermittent leave, arrange for substitution of paid leave, and more. In addition, you have to make sure the work gets done while the employee is out, whether by distributing the employee’s responsibilities to coworkers, hiring a temporary replacement, or outsourcing. Chapter 10 covers these issues.

    Step 8: Did you follow the rules for reinstating an employee returning from leave? You must return the employee to the same or an equivalent position and restore the employee’s seniority and benefits, unless an exception applies. Chapter 11 explains these rules, as well as what to do if the employee doesn’t return from leave.

    Step 9: Have you met your obligations under any other laws that apply? Whether or not the FMLA applies, the employee might be protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act, workers’ compensation statutes, state family and medical leave laws, and other laws. To find out about your obligations under these other laws, see Chapter 12.

    Step 10: Have you met your record-keeping requirements? If your company is covered by the FMLA, you must keep certain payroll, benefits, leave, and other records, and you’ll certainly want to keep proper documentation of your decisions and conversations, in case you need to rely on them later.

    These issues are covered in Chapter 13.

    The Compassionate Manager

    One of the challenges of implementing the FMLA is that you must meet your legal obligations within a context that can be emotional. After all, employees who qualify for FMLA leave are undergoing major life changes. On the positive side, the employee might be welcoming a new child, with all the joy and excitement that brings. On the more sobering side, perhaps the employee is losing a parent or spouse to a terminal illness, caring for a seriously ill or injured child, or suffering through a painful disease. Although you have to follow the law’s requirements and make sure your company’s needs are met, no one wants to be the hardhearted administrator who responds to an emotionally distraught employee by handing over a stack of forms to be completed in triplicate.

    The FMLA recognizes that employees who need time off for pressing family or health concerns might not always be able to dot every “i” and cross every “t.” The law provides guidance on what to do if, for example, an employee is too ill or injured to communicate with you, can’t return to work on time because of continuing health problems, or doesn’t complete forms properly. These rules will help you balance your legal obligations with the natural human desire to be compassionate during a difficult time.

    And, as we’ll remind you from time to time, you have little to gain from imposing strict deadlines and paperwork requirements on employees who are truly in dire straits. Judges and juries are people, too, and they can find ways to enforce the spirit of the law in favor of an employee who needed its protection, even if the employee failed to meet deadlines, give adequate notice, hand in forms on time, or provide required information.

    Of course, people have different comfort levels when dealing with emotional subjects. Some can easily offer support and a shoulder to cry on; others would rather volunteer for a root canal. If you fall on the more stoic end of this spectrum, take heart: You don’t need to become a therapist—or the employee’s best friend—to show some understanding in a difficult situation. Just remember that a little kindness goes a long way. Acknowledge what your employees are dealing with, cut them some slack if necessary, and work with them to make the law serve its purpose.

    Why You Need to Get It Right

    Properly managing your FMLA obligations is a win-win situation. Employees win because they get time off when they really need it, with the assurance that their jobs will be waiting for them when they come back. You and your company win because helping employees balance work and family leads to greater employee loyalty to the company and all of the other benefits that flow from it, including better morale, stronger retention, and even improved productivity.

    That’s the carrot; here’s the stick: Violating the FMLA can lead to serious trouble. And we don’t just mean the morale problems and associated woes that can crop up if employees feel that their needs aren’t important to the company. Mishandling family and medical leave issues can also give rise to lawsuits, not just against your company, but against you, individually, as the manager who made the flawed decision. Of course, this is the ultimate worst-case scenario, and chances are good that you’ll never have to face it. If you’re one of the unlucky few, however, your personal assets could be on the line, not to mention your career and reputation.

    FMLA lawsuits are on the rise. More employees are filing lawsuits alleging violations of the FMLA than ever before. According to the official website of the U.S. court system, there were more than 1,300 FMLA cases filed in each of the last three years in the federal courts alone. The upshot for employers is clear: Compliance with the FMLA—and proof of compliance, in the form of records and policies—is more important than ever.

    How Other Laws and Company Policies Come Into Play

    The FMLA isn’t the only law you need to consider when employees need time off for family or medical reasons. Other federal and state laws might also come into play, depending on the circumstances. In addition, a company’s own policies often affect family and medical leave by, for example, providing paid sick, vacation, or family leave; requiring employees to follow certain procedures before taking time off; or dictating how seniority, benefits, and other issues are handled when an employee is on leave.

    Lessons From the Real World

    Human resources manager can be sued, individually, for violating the FMLA.

    Elaine Brewer worked for Jefferson-Pilot Standard Life Insurance Company for 29 years. In July 2002, she requested leave to have eye surgery, estimating she would be out for one to three weeks. While she was out, she gave status reports on her condition to her direct supervisor and to Felicia Cooper, Jefferson-Pilot’s senior human resources manager. After three weeks of leave, Brewer’s eyes had not yet healed sufficiently for her to return to work. At that point, for the first time, Jefferson-Pilot gave Brewer notice of her rights under the FMLA.

    On July 31, 2002, Cooper spoke to Brewer by phone and asked for the names of her health care providers. Cooper then contacted the health care providers and asked them to submit medical certification forms documenting Brewer’s condition. On August 2, 2002, before receiving the certification forms back from Brewer’s doctors, Cooper accused Brewer of lying about her condition.

    Although Brewer said she would be able to return to work on August 5, Cooper fired Brewer for dishonesty and insubordination. On August 5, Brewer’s doctor returned the certification form, indicating that Brewer had been receiving medical care during her entire leave.

    Brewer sued Jefferson-Pilot and Cooper, individually, for violating the FMLA. Cooper argued that she could not be sued personally because she was not Brewer’s employer. However, the court disagreed: Relying on the language of the FMLA and the regulations interpreting it, the court found that anyone who acts in the interest of the employer in relation to an employee could be sued as an employer. Because Brewer claimed that Cooper received her medical status reports, controlled the paperwork relating to her leave, contacted the doctors, and fired her for allegedly lying about her condition, Cooper was a proper defendant in the lawsuit.

    Brewer v. Jefferson-Pilot Standard Life Insurance Company, 333 F.Supp.2d 433 (M.D. N.C. 2004).

    This possibility of overlap means three very important things to managers:

    • Whenever an employee requests time off pursuant to any law or company policy, you must ask yourself whether the FMLA applies.
    • The employee isn’t required to explicitly ask for “FMLA leave”; it’s your responsibility to determine whether the employee’s time off is FMLA qualified. An employee on workers’ comp leave, temporary disability leave, parental leave, or even vacation might be protected by the FMLA, if the employee meets all of the criteria. And you will certainly want to count that time off as FMLA leave, not only to make sure the employee’s rights are protected, but also to put some limit on the total amount of time an employee can take off in a year.
    • When the FMLA and another law or policy both apply, you might have to provide more than the FMLA requires. If other laws or your company’s policies give employees additional rights, you must honor them as well. The employee is entitled to every protection available, whether it is provided by the FMLA, another law, or your company’s policies.

    Overlapping Laws

    The basic rule about what to do when the FMLA and another law overlap is easy to state: You must follow every applicable provision of every applicable law. In other words, you may not focus solely on the FMLA and ignore your company’s obligations under other state or federal laws. If both laws apply to the same situation, you must give the employee the benefit of whichever law is more generous or provides greater rights.

    Here are some of the other laws that might also apply to an employee who takes FMLA leave (Chapter 12 explains each in detail, and you can find information on each state’s leave laws in Appendix A):

    • Antidiscrimination laws, which prohibit discrimination based on certain protected characteristics. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and similar state laws might come into play if an employee’s serious health condition is also a protected disability. Laws that prohibit gender and pregnancy discrimination might also overlap with the FMLA.
    • Workers’ compensation statutes, which require most employers to carry insurance that pays for medical treatment and partial wage replacement for employees who suffer work-related injuries or illnesses. An employee who needs workers’ compensation leave almost always has a serious health condition under the FMLA, as explained in Chapter 12.
    • State and local leave laws, which require employers to give time off for specified reasons. Some states give employees the right to take pregnancy disability leave, parental leave, leave for a family member’s military service, or other types of family and medical leave. More than a dozen states require employers to provide paid sick leave; in the past few years, some states have also enacted paid family and medical leave laws. If the employee takes leave for a reason that’s covered by both state law and the FMLA, you can count that time off against the employee’s allotment of FMLA hours. However, if state law provides leave that isn’t covered by the FMLA, you can’t count those types of leave against the employee’s FMLA entitlement. This means that the employee might be legally entitled to take more time off than the FMLA allows. (See Appendix A for detailed information on state family and medical leave laws.) Some local governments also have their own leave laws.
    • State insurance programs, which provide some wage replacement, usually funded by payroll deductions, for employees who are unable to work due to a temporary disability (including pregnancy and childbirth). Most states that offer paid family leave use an insurance-type program, funded by payroll deductions (perhaps with an employer contribution as well), with benefits paid by the state rather than directly by the employer. An employee on FMLA leave might be entitled to some compensation from this type of program.

    Company Policies

    Company policies interact with the FMLA in a slightly different way. For the most part, your company may give employees more rights than the FMLA provides, but it may not take FMLA rights away. For example, if your company has a family and medical leave policy that allows employees to take up to 16 weeks of parental leave, you cannot disregard that policy and give employees only the 12 weeks required by the FMLA. If your company’s policies are less generous, however, the company must follow the FMLA: It must, for example, give employees a full 12 weeks of parental leave, even if the company’s policies provide for only 6.

    The FMLA regulations make clear that employers may require employees to follow their usual company procedures when taking leave, as long as those rules don’t violate the FMLA. For example, your company may enforce its usual notice rules—such as requiring 2 weeks’ notice to use paid vacation time—for employees who want to use paid leave during their FMLA leave. And, your company may generally require employees using FMLA leave to follow other leave requirements, such as calling a particular person to report an absence, as long as those rules don’t require more notice than the FMLA. These rules are explained in Chapter 8.

    In addition to these general rules, the FMLA also makes explicit reference to particular types of employer policies. For example, the FMLA says that you can fire an employee for substance abuse, even if the employee takes FMLA leave to go to rehab, but only if your company has a policy allowing it to do so.

    Because this is a potentially confusing area, we’ve devoted Appendix B to company policies that can affect FMLA obligations. This appendix identifies the most common areas in which company policy might come into play and provides sample policy language to help you maximize your company’s rights. In addition, you’ll find policy alert icons throughout the book. These icons let you know that your company’s policy could determine your rights and obligations regarding that topic.

    How to Use This Book

    This book explains every aspect of the FMLA, from figuring out whether your company is covered by the law to reinstating an employee returning from FMLA leave. We cover these topics in the order in which they will ordinarily come up as you administer an employee’s leave. In addition, we provide helpful appendixes that explain how your state’s laws and your company’s policies could affect your company’s FMLA rights and obligations.

    Lessons From the Real World

    Employee may sue for FMLA entitlements promised in employee handbook, even though employee didn’t meet FMLA eligibility requirements.

    Steven Peters marketed pharmaceutical products to health care providers for Gilead Sciences, Incorporated. Peters was off work for shoulder surgery from December 5 to December 16, 2002; Gilead sent him a letter identifying his time off as FMLA leave. The letter tracked language in the company’s employee handbook, including that employees were entitled to 12 weeks of leave, followed by reinstatement. The letter also described the eligibility requirements for FMLA leave, but didn’t include the requirement that the company employ 50 employees within 75 miles. In fact, this requirement wasn’t met.

    On March 4, 2003, Peters began a second period of leave after he began using neurontin, a drug that can cause serious side effects. Gilead again sent him a letter identifying his time off as FMLA leave but Peters never got this letter. On April 16, Gilead received a letter from Peters’s doctor, releasing him to return to work on May 5. On April 21, Gilead offered Peters’s position to someone else, who accepted it and began work a week later. On April 25, Gilead sent Peters a letter indicating that it could not reinstate him because he held a “key” position (apparently an effort to use the “key employee” exception, covered in Chapter 11).

    Peters sued, and Gilead claimed that he wasn’t entitled to FMLA leave because he didn’t meet the eligibility requirements. The Court of Appeals eventually found that, although Peters might not have had an actual FMLA claim, he could still sue Gilead for promissory estoppel (essentially, for failing to follow through on its promise of leave). Because Gilead’s handbook and letter promised that Peters was entitled to reinstatement after 12 weeks of leave, Gilead could be responsible for the damages Peters suffered because of his reliance on the promise in taking leave.

    Peters v. Gilead Sciences, Inc., 533 F.3d 594 (7th Cir. 2008).

    We strongly advise you to read the whole book, even if you are already familiar with some aspects of the FMLA. Because the FMLA imposes fairly tight deadlines on employers—and because the way you handle initial issues can affect your company’s rights down the road—you’ll want to understand the whole picture before you must handle a leave request. Also, there have been significant changes in the law and regulations in recent years, so you might need to learn some different requirements. Once you’ve reviewed every chapter, you can use the book as a reference, to quickly look up the information you need.

    Each chapter includes features that will help you meet your obligations, including:

    • Chapter Highlights, which summarize the basic rules covered in the chapter
    • Lessons From the Real World, which show how courts have handled particular disputes between real employees and real employers
    • Examples, which will help you understand how to apply the material to real-life situations
    • Sample Forms, which allow you to request information from, and provide information to, employees about FMLA leave (you’ll find blank copies of all forms on this book’s companion page at Nolo’s website; see Appendix C for details)
    • Managers’ Checklists and Flowcharts, useful for making sure you’ve considered every important factor when making decisions about key FMLA issues, and
    • Common Mistakes—And How to Avoid Them, which will help you steer clear of legal trouble in applying the FMLA.

    Complying with the FMLA can be a challenge, but the materials in this book will help you handle your responsibilities legally, fairly, and confidently. The first step is to figure out whether your company is covered by the law— and, if so, to give employees notice of their rights under the law—using the guidelines in Chapter 2. If you already know that your company is covered and has met its posting and policy obligations, move on to Chapter 3, which will help you figure out which employees are eligible for leave.

    We hope you enjoyed this sample. The complete book is available for sale here at

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