The Family and Medical Leave Act

Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid



The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons. 


Which employers are covered? The FMLA only applies to certain employers.


A covered employer is a:


• Private employer, who employs more than 50 employees for 20 workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year

• Government agency (local, state, or federal and regardless of the number of employees); or

• Elementary or secondary school (public or private and regardless of the number of employees)


Which employees are eligible? Only certain employees are entitled to take FMLA leave.


An eligible employee:


• Works for a covered employer;

• Has worked for the employer for at least 12 months and at least 1,250 hours; and

• Works at a location where the employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles.


How much leave is available?  Eligible employees may take up to 12 workweeks of leave in a 12-month period. (Up to 26 weeks of caregiver leave may be available for certain military members.)


Reasons for leave:


• The birth of a child or placement of a child with the employee for adoption or foster care, within one year of birth or placement;

• To care for a spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition;

• For a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job; or

• For qualified reasons related to the fact that a spouse, child, or parent is a military member on covered active duty or call to covered active duty status.


Can leave be taken intermittently or on an hourly basis?


• Sometimes. An employee must provide reasonable notice of planned medical treatment to take intermittent or reduced schedule leave.  If FMLA leave is for the birth, adoption, or foster placement of a child, intermittent leave requires the employer’s approval.


Can I get paid during FMLA leave?


• It depends.  Although FMLA leave is unpaid, employees may choose or employers may require employees to use accrued paid leave, such as sick or vacation leave, to cover some or all of the FMLA leave period. An employee’s ability to take paid leave during FMLA leave depends on the employer's normal leave policies.


What do I need to tell my employer in order to take FMLA leave?


• Employees must request leave under their employer’s usual rules and must provide enough information for the employer to determine whether the leave qualifies as FMLA leave. When the need for leave is foreseeable, employees generally must request leave 30 days in advance. When the need for leave is unforeseeable, employees must provide notice as soon as practicable. When an employee seeks leave for a FMLA-qualifying reason for the first time, the employee is not required to ask for “FMLA leave” or even mention the FMLA.


What does my employer have to tell me about FMLA leave?


• Covered employers must: (1) post a notice about the FMLA; (2) include information about the FMLA in the employee handbook or provide information to new employees; (3) notify the employee about FMLA leave eligibility and FMLA rules in response to a request for leave that may qualify as FMLA leave; and (4) notify employees whether leave is designated as FMLA leave and the amount of leave that will be deducted from the employee’s FMLA allotment.


Can my employer require that I provide medical information in order to receive FMLA leave?


• Yes. When an employee requests leave based on the employee’s or a family member’s health, employers may require certification from a health care provider that an employee or family member is suffering from a serious health condition. The employer may also require second or third medical opinions (at the employer’s expense) and periodic recertification of the serious health condition.


What’s a “serious health condition”?


A serious health condition is an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that involves inpatient care or continuing treatment by a health care provider. The most common conditions covered by the FMLA are conditions that involve an overnight hospital stay; illnesses that last three days or more; chronic conditions; and pregnancy.


Can I go back to work after my FMLA leave?


• Yes.  After FMLA leave, an employee must be restored to the employee’s original job or an equivalent job.  FMLA leave cannot be counted against an employee under a “no-fault” attendance policy.


What if my employer violates the FMLA?


• If you believe that your rights under the FMLA have been violated, you may file a complaint with the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor or file a private lawsuit against your employer in court.


For more detailed information about the FMLA, visit the Department of Labor website:  Different rules apply to the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.  More information about EFMLEA leave is available here:



Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans. 

To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:

  • Call 800-532-1275.
  • Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161.
  • Apply online at
If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer” on the Iowa State Bar Association website   A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.
As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice.
Last Review and Update: Nov 15, 2022
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