Know Your Facts: The Family Medical Leave Act


Federal employees shouldn’t have to choose between their jobs and caring for themselves or their immediate family members. Taking time off from work to deal with a chronic condition or care for a sick family member shouldn’t be a career ender.

That’s why the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) pushed hard for the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which Congress approved in 1993. In the nearly 25 years since then, the law has helped countless federal employees and their family members. Still, not everyone fully understands how this important law works.

Here’s a brief FMLA guide:

  • The law allows employees to take up to 12 weeks, or 480 hours, of authorized, unpaid leave within a 12-month window to care for themselves or immediate family members who have a serious medical condition.
  • Employees can use FMLA leave all at once, intermittently or they can use it to work a reduced work schedule.
  • The law covers employees and their spouses, parents, children and those for whom the employee serves as a non-biological parent.
  • Employees can use FMLA to care for their newborns, or for the adoption or foster-care placement of a child. Employees have until the child turns 1 year old to use up all or part of their FMLA leave for care of that child.
  • FMLA can be used only for serious health conditions. Generally, this includes an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that involves inpatient care or continuing treatment by a healthcare provider, accompanied by an inability to work for specific periods of time. These include chronic or long-term conditions and pregnancy-related absences.

There’s language in the FMLA that applies specifically to military caregivers. Employees with a seriously-ill or injured spouse, child, parent or next of kin who’s serving in the armed forces or had served within the past five years can take up to 26 weeks—again, within a 12-month window—to care for that person.

Finally, a word about medical certification requirements under FMLA. Federal employees aren’t required to submit medical records when applying for FMLA leave. Supervisors can’t ask for or access employee medical records.

However, agencies do have the right to request medical certification regarding the employee’s health condition. Many agencies have a medical professional on staff designated to receive and evaluate medical certificates submitted in support of an FMLA leave request. This certification, which is to be signed by a health-care provider, must provide details such as when the illness or condition began and how much FMLA leave the employee needs and also include a general description of the condition.

This brief guide is just that—a guide. It’s not intended as legal advice. For more information about FMLA, be sure to talk to your union representative. You can also learn more about this important law through the Department of Labor’s website.

While FMLA provides valuable benefits, many federal employees simply can’t afford to take off without pay. Read my blog post next week to find out what else Congress can do to help moms and dads who’re also federal employees.

The writer is National President of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 150,000 employees in 31 federal agencies.

Tony Reardon is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here. 

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Carolyn Kymalainen

Unfortunately it is still a struggle to get managers to accept these employee rights. Requests for FMLA are met with misinformation and in some cases anger. People don’t want to file an FMLA because they see others being hassled when they have one. More needs to be done to educate and/or punish management which discriminates against FMLA use. There is no down side for this behavior now.

capucina douglas

Thank you this is a serious situation for more federal employees that hesitate to come forward because of these reasons with management. I have fmla and it is held against me for many reasons wen it shouldn’t be my disability condition is not visible but it is truly within me. Thank you for helping

Juana Williams

I no longer request FMLA as my HR “benefits person” was always difficult when I would bring in my doctor signed application. Sometimes it was “it ‘s supposed to be on blue paper” and I would reply that I downloaded the application from the National website. So I would have to complete an additional page on blue paper. Or-“it is only good for six months, you have to bring in another application” and I would reply that the national website said the app. was good for 480 hours & a new one would be needed after a year. That was no good, I was told to have my Dr. handwrite another application every six months! My app was considered expired after 6 months even though I have a permanent disability! HR caused me more stress (which I am supposed to avoid whenever possible) than doing my job and taking the time off I need.
There must be many complaints because when I ‘ve called to lodge a complaint, it takes a month or two before my case is assigned to someone. This is an unfortunate situation for so many!


I emphasize with all of the comments here as well. Personally, I believe that FMLA is being applied incorrectly at my agency. I was under the impression that FMLA was available when you’re in a situation where your leave accruals are or will be depleted depending on the length of the absence. My agency counts FMLA anytime leave is used for my disability. I am also concerned about the annual requirement of FMLA documents for a permanent disability. I have a non-visible condition as well. It is very frustrating dealing with the disbelief, the discrimination & denial of reasonable accommodations.

Jamie bowling

management holds FMLA against you. My disability is not visible but serious. I have been punished several times while I was in need of medical attention but wasn’t able to get immediate doctors appointments. So my manager and upper management would just charge me awol and suspend me. I was diagnosed back in 2006 and have been punished each and every time I took off for my serious medical condition. They never made attempts for offering reasonable accommodation. I had contacted NAMI and explain my case and they said it was clearly discrimination. I think management should be aware of the disability that people have and accommodate instead of punish. I have been with the company for 20 years and to just throw me away because of my disability has ruined me financially my stress levels hike up and management just tries to make everything worse instead of helping and having compassion for individuals who have disabilities rather it be physical or mental. Management’s discrimination on my disability has ruined my career at the agency. I hope and pray the Union and the Union lawyers help me so I may be able to go back to work and be reimbursed for all my FMLA leave and the financial suffering I have endured. I think management and upper management who discriminate against individuals with disability should be punished for their egregious Behavior. I’m so sad and hurt my manger and his manager have made things worse mentally emotionally financially and I don’t know what to do now. My rights were clearly violated. I feel like there’s no one out there to help me.


I’m so disappointed to read about all the punishment the NTEU family has/had to endure. I truly believe if managers were punished for discrimination regarding FMLA, the behavior would cease. However, unfortunately we have some of our members to blame that has abused the FMLA. The managers in lieu of punishing those responsible, they treat us all as we are abusing FMLA. I feel Strongly about the Federal gov finding innovative ways to discriminate thus the reason no one is held accountable for discrimination against those that use FMLA.

Patricia Bourgeois

Thank you so much for that over view regarding FMLA. I hope that management does read this in order to get a better understanding of how it works. Some managers need to know that they are not in control. Happy holidays.

Marc Aaron Goldbach

Thank you so much for very informative post. Now, no need to struggle to file a family medical leave. The law is very clear, many employer or employees are still not aware but through this kind of post can reach to lots of readers across the country. Some people still needs a guidance, if you know you are rejected about your FMLA don’t hesitate to ask the professional Family Medical Leave Lawyer in your area.

–Goldbach Law Group–