Photo by Olga Kononenko on Unsplash

Photo by Olga Kononenko on Unsplash

Employment is a significant stressor for people around the world. Job stability is critical for quality of life, especially in countries where healthcare is tied to employment. Concerns about job security leave many restless at night with hundreds of “what if” questions running through their minds.

This is particularly true for people with chronic illness who are acutely aware of how quickly their health can change. A flare-up can leave a person hospitalized or bedridden for weeks or months at a time. The last thing someone in this position should be worrying about is losing their job and health insurance.

Thankfully, there are laws in place to help prevent this. While the protections do not remedy the whole situation, they can make it easier on both patients and caregivers. Read on to learn about the Family Medical Leave Act and how to use it if the need arises.

What is the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993?

The Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 is a federal law requiring employers to provide employees of public agencies, schools, and private sector businesses (who have 50+ employees) with up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave for qualified individuals. Depending on their specific health circumstances, an employee may take this leave all at once or break it up by working reduced hours.

The employer must leave the employee on the group healthcare during the employee’s leave. They are also required to give the employee the same position (or equivalent), pay, and benefits when they return.

Photo by Leon on Unsplash

Photo by Leon on Unsplash

Who is eligible to take fmla leave?

  • An employee working for a covered employer
  • An employee who has worked at least 1,250 hours for the 12 months preceding the medical leave.
  • Works at a location where the employer has at least 50 employees living within 17 miles.
  • Employee must have a qualifying condition or be a care provider for an immediate family member with a serious condition (father, mother, or child under 18).

What are qualifying conditions for fmla leave?

There are a range of reasons that one can qualify for leave under the FMLA. I will, therefore, only review the ones most relevant for this blog. An employee qualifies for medical leave if they cannot work because of a serious health condition or if they are the caregiver for an immediate family member (mother, father, or child) with a serious illness. The legislation defines a serious condition as something requiring inpatient treatment or extended treatment (such as medication). Fluctuating illnesses like IBD, are included in this definition.

How do I request medical leave under fmla?

Employees seeking to request medical leave under the FMLA must notify their employer 30 days in advance when the leave is foreseeable. With regards to IBD, this might be the case for a planned surgery. In many cases, however, IBD flares without warning. IBD patients often have little warning before a hospitalization or surgery. In such cases, the employee must give notice as soon as it is practicable.

Do I need to Disclose my health condition?

An employee is not required to give their employer their medical records/ history to request leave. However, the employer may request a certification from a healthcare provider affirming the employee’s need for FMLA. The employer must give the employee fifteen days to obtain such a statement. The employer may ask for a second opinion at their (the employer’s) expense.

Will I need clearance to return to work?

If an employee takes FMLA leave for a serious medical condition, the employer may require certification that the employee can resume work safely. The employee is responsible for any cost involved in this certification process.

Concluding Points

The Family Medical Leave Act is an essential piece of legislation for people with chronic illnesses. It allows a patient or caregiver to maintain their job (and health insurance) while taking time off to focus on what matters the most. If you ever need to use the FMLA, you must communicate this need with your employer as soon as possible. Communication is not merely required by the law; it helps alleviate stress and prevent conflict.


Colker, R.& Grossman, P.D. (2014). The Law of Disability Discrimination for Higher      Educational Professionals. New Providence, NJ: LexisNexis.

“Family and Medical Leave Act (1993).” Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History, edited by Thomas Riggs, 2nd ed., vol. 1, Gale, 2015, p. 412. Gale eBooks, Accessed 19 Aug. 2021.

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