When can workers take leave under the FMLA?

On Behalf of | May 19, 2023 | Employee Rights |

Employers sometimes provide workers with paid leave that they can use on special occasions, like vacations, or when they have health issues that prevent them from doing their jobs. Not every worker has paid time off benefits, and even those that do may not have enough paid leave to really handle an intense personal situation.


The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a key federal statute establishing the right to take unpaid leave when a worker has typically at least a year of employment history with a company and the organization is of sufficient size to absorb the cost of their unpaid leave. There are typically three times when workers can request unpaid leave lasting up to 12 weeks to handle family or medical situations. These common scenarios typically qualify an eligible worker for leave under the FMLA.

A worker’s injury or illness

An individual’s need for medical treatment is one of the most common reasons that someone will apply for FMLA leave. In theory, any condition that requires a leave of absence either for treatment or recuperation could qualify a worker for an unpaid leave of absence. Documentation of the condition and of the doctor’s recommendation for rest or invasive treatment will typically be necessary for a worker to get unpaid leave for their own medical care.

A birth, adoption or foster placement

Adding a new member to the family will mean major changes for parents and the existing children in the household. Therefore, the FMLA provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for new parents to adjust after the birth of a child or to help their family adjust after the adoption or foster placement of a child into the household.

A family member in need of support

The FMLA also allows people to take leave when someone in their immediate family requires medical care. Spouses, children and parents who have severe illnesses or injuries and require hands-on support in the home could justify someone applying for leave under the FMLA. If the injured family member was an active-duty servicemember, the possible leave period could reach up to 26 weeks in some cases.

Both workers and employers have an interest in making sense of these rules. Seeking legal guidance to learn more about the FMLA can help employees determine when they have a right to take leave and employers decide how to respond to such requests appropriately.