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Does your small business have to approve unpaid FMLA leave?

On Behalf of | Feb 2, 2022 | Employment Law |

As an employer, you are subject to numerous state and federal laws regarding how you treat your employees. The more employees you have, the more rules that apply to your business.

Laws regarding equal pay apply to companies with just one employee. On the other hand, the Americans with Disabilities Act only applies to larger, established businesses that can defray the costs of reasonable accommodations for their workers.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that allows workers to take unpaid time off of work for specific reasons. Will your small business have to approve an unpaid leave request made under the FMLA?

Is your business big enough?

The FMLA usually does not apply to truly small businesses. If you have fewer than 50 employees, or what typically does not apply to you. Although the federal government does occasionally create exemptions that apply to smaller businesses due to emergency situations, for the most part, FMLA leave is only available to those who work for a business with more than 50 employees. 

Does the employee even qualify?

If your business is big enough for the law to apply, the next question is whether or not the employee will qualify. They typically need to have worked for your company for at least 12 months and performed at least 1,250 hours of labor. Additionally, your worker can only request leave in a handful of specific situations.

One of those is when they have a medical issue themselves. Another is when a family member requires their medical support, although typically only spouses, parents and children will qualify someone for leave. Finally, the FMLA applies when someone has a baby or adopts a child. If none of those situations apply, then your worker’s leave does not fall under the umbrella of the FMLA even if they might otherwise qualify for unpaid leave.

What if they do qualify?

A worker with an appropriate leave request will usually only be able to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a single year even if multiple situations meet the criteria for leave under the FMLA. Moving someone else into their position or hiring a temporary worker may be necessary steps if your employee takes a leave of absence.

When they come back, you should allow them into the same position or a similar one for the same pay. You could face accusations of retaliation if you terminate the worker or make punitive employment decisions based on their need to take leave.

Learning more about when certain employment laws apply to your business can help you make the best decisions possible as an employer.