Employer FMLA Coverage and Employee FMLA Eligibility

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) became law in 1993 and entitles eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid and job protected  leave in a 12 month period for specific family and medical reasons.  The law has been expanded several times to include various additions of military related leave which I intend on covering in a future post.

The FMLA has two rules that must be met before an employer must offer FMLA leave. Employer coverage and employee eligibility.

My intent is to explain the difference between an employer’s FMLA coverage and the employee’s FMLA eligibility because there can be some confusion in how they are applied.

For an employer to meet FMLA coverage requirements they must have 50 or more employees on their payroll during 20 or more nonconsecutive calendar workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year.  The definition of an employee for FMLA coverage purposes is full or part time and must appear on the payroll on any workday during a week.  Seems pretty simple.

The confusion starts when we take a look at FMLA employee eligibility.  While the employer might meet coverage requirements, the employee may not meet eligibility requirements.

To be eligible, the employee must:

  • Be employed by the employer for at least 12 nonconsecutive months
  • Worked 1,250 hours during the 12 month period prior to requesting FMLA leave
  • Worked at a location in the United States where the employer employs 50 or more employees within 75 miles

The first two eligibility requirements are simple and easy to understand but the third is what can cause confusion.  Put simply, an employer may meet FMLA coverage requirements by having 50+ employees but those 50+ employees may be in several locations 75+ miles apart. The employees of this employer would, therefore, not meet the eligibility requirements and not be covered by the FMLA.  Another example would be an employer meets the coverage requirement, has one location with 50+ employees and several other locations with less than 50 employees and are 75+ miles apart.  Here, the employees at the location with 50+ employees would be eligible while the employees at the other locations would not.  An employer can offer FMLA coverage to those employees who are technically ineligible because of their location for policy consistency and to maintain positive employee relations but they are not required to.