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What Are FMLA Qualifying Events?

Qualifying eventIn our last blog post, we helped readers determine whether or not the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) applies to their company. In this post, we look at what kind of occurrences are qualifying events.

The most common FMLA qualifying event for leave is an employee’s own serious health condition. Leave schedules are separated into three categories: continuous, for a singular event such as a broken bone; intermittent, for flair-ups of chronic illnesses such as epilepsy or diabetes; and reduced schedule, for events that limit an employee’s ability to adhere to a typical work schedule.

Regardless of the category, an employee’s medical leave must meet the definition of a serious health condition. This means the illness or injury includes a period of time when the individual must be incapacitated for more than three consecutive, full calendar days, and require subsequent treatment or a period of incapacity relating to the same condition. Both of these criteria must be met for qualification as a serious health condition, in that the employee cannot perform at least one primary responsibility of his or her position.

In addition, a licensed health care professional must sign-off on the event; two or more treatments must fall within 30 days of the first day of incapacitation, or a single treatment must result in a regimen of continuing treatment to qualify.

These criteria also apply to caring for immediate family members who have a serious health condition, which include parents (but not in-laws), spouses and children under the age of 18 (unless the child is incapable of self-care). However, same-sex partnerships are not covered by the FMLA, except in states that have passed additional legislation.

In addition to medical leave, the birth of a newborn or the placement of a child in adoption or foster care is also considered an FMLA qualifying event. In these instances, time must be made available for the parent to bond with the new child, and either a mother or father can qualify to care for a newborn within one year of birth. However, if both individuals are employed by the same company, the employer may require that they share their FMLA entitlement for family leave.

Families preparing for or initiating an adoption can use up to 12 weeks of FMLA leave to complete any administrative tasks or to welcome the child within one year of placement.

Another qualifying event under the FMLA is a form of leave known as a “qualified exigency,” which allows for an individual to fulfill the responsibilities of a family member called into active military duty. Additionally, the FMLA provides protection for any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that the employee’s spouse, child, or parent is a military member on covered active duty.

Eligible employees can also request up to 26 weeks to care for a family member who is considered a covered service member and was injured in active military duty. This is widely known as military caregiver leave and eligible family members are both current service members and certain veterans.

While these are considered the primary qualifying events under the Family and Medical Leave Act, many illnesses can fall into gray areas for which ensuring proper documentation from an employee or their family member’s doctor become essential. If there is any confusion or uncertainty about whether an employee’s request for leave qualifies under the FMLA guidelines, consultation with a firm such as Creative Benefits is advised to avoid unnecessary leave approval or audits.

About the author: Kelly Fitzgerald is an Account Manager and FMLA Specialist with Creative Benefits, Inc. She assists clients with Family and Medical Leave Administration and provides consultative services to employers and their employees.