You’re a hard worker and very committed to your job. But sometimes, life intervenes. When that happens, you should be sure to check the Paid Time Off benefits your employer offers.
The answer’s not so straightforward. Whether you need to take a Leave of Absence for a new baby, health recovery or caretaking, your options depend on many factors—from your employer’s policies to federal, state and local laws.
And now more than ever, those rules are continually evolving. Some Leave laws have changed in light of COVID-19 to help Americans manage the many challenges of a worldwide pandemic, from lack of childcare to hospitalizations.
Even with those changes, however, it doesn’t mean that all employers now have to give all employees Paid Time Off. You may have options, though, and it’s important to understand what they are before you request a Leave. This guide can help.
Perks vs. Rights: What’s the Difference?
Most types of Leave fall into two categories:
Those that you get as a “perk” of the job (fringe benefits).
Those that employers must give you because a law requires it.
Things like company Paid Time Off or vacation time go into the first category. They aren’t typically required by law, but some employers choose to offer them as a benefit of working there. Many large companies are known for their generous fringe Leave policies.
Time away from work, such as Unpaid Parental Leave or family caretaking leave often go into the second category, because various laws require certain employers to offer job-protected time off to eligible employees. Those workplace Leaves of Absence are generally unpaid, but newer laws require some to be paid as well.
When Can I Take Unpaid Time Off?
Many of the protections for Unpaid Leave fall under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This law requires certain employers to give employees up to 12 weeks of Unpaid Leave each year for medical or family-related reasons, including:
- care of a new baby, which includes adopting or fostering a child
- experiencing a serious health condition, which includes pregnancy complications and recovery after child birth
- taking care of someone in your immediate family with a serious health problem, like cancer or certain mental health disorders
- military caretakers may be able to qualify for more time under Military Caretaker Leave
- preparing for the deployment of a military service member in your family
For those eligible for the 12 weeks of Unpaid Leave under FMLA, your job is generally protected, and your access to group health benefits must remain intact.
But there’s a caveat: Not everyone qualifies for FMLA. Generally, you have these rights if you work:
- for the government
- at a company with at least 50 employees
- for a public or private elementary or secondary school
Additionally, you must have:
- worked for that employer for at least a year
- worked at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months
- work at a location with at least 50 employees within 75 miles
Making your Request
Prioritizing your health needs and that of your family is key to good health, inside and out. If you need to take Leave, these tips can help:
Do Your Research
Explore the laws that may apply to you, from local and state requirements, to federal protections under FMLA and FFCRA.
Read Company Policies
Review your company’s Leave policy so that you can assess your options. Pay attention to your fringe benefits.
Work together with your employer to find a mutually beneficial solution. Sometimes, you may find that a flexible schedule or telecommuting works better than a Leave of Absence. Consider all your options to find the best one.
To qualify for FMLA and other Leaves, you may need to complete forms and collect certifications from your doctor. It helps to keep all your documents in one place so that you can have everything easily accessible.
Workers have more options than ever if they need time off to take care of themselves or someone else. Remember your rights under the law, but also keep in mind that fringe benefits matter too.
Having an early understanding of all your Leave benefits is helpful. After all, life tends to intervene when we least expect it.
Don’t Miss Out On This Benefit
66.5% of all bankruptcies were connected to either the cost of medical care or time out of work because of a medical issue.