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.