Family and Medical Leaves Act: Rights and Responsibilities


It is impossible to improve employee satisfaction and loyalty to employers without measures to show understanding for staff members’ personal situations. To support employees in maintaining the best possible work-life balance in challenging circumstances, many organizations provide them with the opportunity to take job leaves without losing their jobs. The purpose of this paper is to review and analyze the applications of the Family and Medical Leaves Act of 1993.

The FMLA: Purpose and Eligibility Requirements

The FMLA was enacted by the 103rd U.S. Congress twenty-eight years ago. Its general role is to specify and describe employees’ right to take leaves because of specific family circumstances or medical reasons (Chen, 2016; Kornfeld, 2018). The purpose of this act is to offer protection to employees in challenging situations by preventing their employers from firing them for absence (Kornfeld, 2018; Remington, Heiser, Smythe, & Sovereign, 2012). Thanks to this act, employees of covered organizations do not have to sacrifice their jobs and benefits when facing temporary difficulties.

Employees must meet multiple criteria to prove their right to take FMLA leaves. Firstly, this person should have an official employment contract with a covered employer. Covered employers are organizations in both public and private sectors that have at least fifty employees (U.S. Department of Labor, 2020). The next eligibility criterion for employees is the total number of working hours – an employee must have worked 1250 or more hours over one year before the start of the planned leave (U.S. DOL, 2020). Only those who have been employed at their organizations for one year or more are eligible for unpaid leaves (U.S. DOL, 2020).

The approved causes for FMLA leaves include the presence of serious health conditions in employees and their first-degree relatives (U.S. DOL, n.d.a). Among such conditions are chronic diseases with periods of incapacitation, other incapacitating conditions that require treatment and care, and pregnancy (U.S. DOL, n.d.a). Finally, elected officials and highly compensated employees face specific limitations in terms of rights.

Parties’ Rights and Responsibilities

The act specifies the responsibilities of those eligible for FMLA leaves and their covered employers. Concerning the responsibilities, employees must declare the need for FMLA leaves as soon as they learn that it will be required (one month before the planned leave or as soon as possible in case of emergent cases) (U.S. DOL, n.d.a). Employees are obliged to provide medical certification as per employers’ request and at their own cost, and the certification should include healthcare organizations’ contacts, relevant medical facts (symptoms, referrals, etc.), the date of diagnosis, and the condition’s anticipated duration (U.S. DOL, n.d.a).

After receiving all medical documentation from employees and confirming their eligibility for FMLA leaves, employers are responsible for finding other people to fulfill these employees’ functions, which can be done by changing work schedules or finding temporary workers (Greszler, 2017). Employers’ responsibilities also include “designating leaves as FMLA-qualifying and giving a Designation Notice to the employee,” as well as continuing the provision of group health insurance coverage to the employee (U.S. DOL, n.d.b, p. 47).

The discussed act also describes the parties’ rights to facilitate conflict resolution. Under the FMLA, employees have the right to keep their exact diagnoses confidential, be restored to the position that they used to fulfill or an equal substitution, and enjoy the same employee benefits as before (U.S. DOL, n.d.a). Employees have the right to ask the U.S. DOL for assistance if their employers have violated their FMLA rights or retaliated against them for filing complaints. Additionally, employees have the freedom of choice and may refuse to retain their group health insurance coverage during the leave (U.S. DOL, n.d.b). Importantly, workers’ right to rejoin the workforce is not absolute. Employers have the right to deny restoration to key employees (the first ten percent of workers in terms of salaries) if full restoration would cause financial injury to the organization and its operations (U.S. DOL, n.d.b). Therefore, there are certain exceptions and limitations to protect employers’ right to act in their best financial interests.

The FMLA and Thad’s Case

Based on the details of Thad’s employment, he belongs to the number of employees that can request FMLA leaves. Mid-size companies have at least one hundred employees, and the FMLA applies to those working for companies with at least fifty employees, which makes Thad’s company a covered employer (U.S. DOL, n.d.b.). Next, given that Thad has worked as a full-time staff member for more than one year, he meets the definition of an eligible employee. There is no information that would allow listing Thad among non-eligible employees.

However, Thad’s reason for requesting a leave of absence requires additional investigation to provide him with a clear response. Chronic conditions that cause temporary incapacitation in employees or their first-line relatives, including adult children, are considered a valid reason for FMLA leaves, so Thad is probably eligible for FMLA leaves (U.S. DOL, n.d.a). In general, alcohol and substance abuse can be considered a serious health issue, especially when it comes to opioid use disorders, but Thad will need to prove that his adult child is and will be incapable of engaging in self-care and instrumental activities without his father’s assistance (U.S. DOL, n.d.a; U.S. DOL, n.d.b). Moreover, he needs to prove that his child will actually be receiving treatment. If no treatment is planned, Thad will not be able to use FMLA leaves.

An Excerpt for HR Policy and Manual Concerning the FMLA

The purpose of this document is to provide a description of the FMLA process that [company name] will utilize. In accordance with the Family and Medical Leaves Act of 1993, [company name] will provide leaves to all of its eligible employees. To confirm employees’ eligibility for FMLA leaves, [company name] has the right to require them to provide the necessary medical certification at their own cost and submit it in a timely manner. As a rule, the following steps will be taken in each individual case:

  • The eligible employee (see section X for eligibility requirements) informs [company name] of the need for a leave of absence and explains the circumstances as soon as he/she learns about the need;
  • [Company name] evaluates the request and informs the employee of the need to provide medical certification;
  • The employee contacts the HR department and submits the required documents within fifteen calendar days after receiving the notification;
  • [Company name] initiates the process of evaluation, which may include the identification of deficiencies in the information, contacting the stated healthcare provider to ask for clarification, or requesting other medical opinions at the employer’s cost;
  • [Company name] provides the employee with a written notification regarding whether the requested leave will be protected under the FMLA.


In summary, the FMLA is aimed at protecting employees when they cannot fulfill their work responsibilities to a full extent. To facilitate the resolution of conflicts, the act outlines the eligibility criteria and provides a clear description of the parties’ responsibilities and rights, including the distribution of expenses. The FMLA applies to Thad’s case, but the employee will need to provide the certification to prove that his adult child has a disability or needs care as a result of a serious health condition.


Chen, M. L. (2016). The growing costs and burden of family caregiving of older adults: A review of paid sick leave and family leave policies. The Gerontologist, 56(3), 391-396. Web.

Greszler, R. (2017). Paid family leave: Avoiding a new national entitlement. Heritage Foundation Backgrounder, (3231), 1-10.

Kornfeld, S. K. (2018). A need not being met: Providing paid family and medical leave for all Americans. Family Court Review, 56(1), 165-179. Web.

Remington, J., Heiser, R. T., Smythe, C., & Sovereign, K. (2012). Human resources law (5th ed.). London, England: Pearson.

U.S. Department of Labor. (2020). Family and Medical Leave Act. Web.

U.S. Department of Labor. (n.d.a). Need time? The employee’s guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act. Web.

U.S. Department of Labor. (n.d.b). The employer’s guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act. Web.

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