Information on the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

Learn How to Use the FMLA to Protect Your Job While on Medical Leave

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The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a Federal law that requires employers to offer health insurance to their eligible employees; up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave, to be used during any 12-month period. If you normally work five days each week, you would be given a total of 60 workdays leave time. FMLA and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protect your job while you are away from work on medical leave.

Breast Cancer Qualifies For FMLA Time

You may already be familiar with FMLA if you have had a baby, adopted or taken in a foster child, or needed time off to care for an immediate family member's health. FMLA covers those circumstances, and also covers medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition. You may need FMLA time in addition to the annual Sick Leave hours that your employer provides because of time needed to recover from surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or other side effects of breast cancer treatment.

Employee Requirements for FMLA

You can apply for FMLA time though your employer if you have worked with the same employer full-time for at least 12 months or 1,250 hours before needing to take leave and you work at a location where 50 or more fellow employees work. If your 12 months of employment was interrupted by time out for military duty, you can still qualify for FMLA.

Check with your supervisor or the Human Resources office of your employer about your qualifications for FMLA, and ask if they require certification of your medical condition now and for return to work after treatment. In many cases, a letter from your oncologist will certify your need for FMLA hours due to treatment.

Keep a copy of any paperwork, including this letter, in your health notebook.

Working With Your Human Resources Office

When you request FMLA hours, you may have to provide a letter from your oncologist. If you change doctors, request an extension of medical leave, or if your medical situation changes, your Human Resources office may ask for additional certification about your condition. Be aware that your employer's HR office may ask their own consulting oncologist to review your certification and give a second opinion, before granting your FMLA application. Ask for specific instructions on how to document your use of FMLA hours, and keep copies of the instructions, any related policies, and your reported FMLA hours. If there is any future dispute over your use of FMLA hours or how they were reported, you will have a paper trail to present for evidence.

Returning To Work After FMLA

You may be well enough to work a significant amount of time even while you're in treatment for breast cancer. Your use of FMLA hours may be at intervals or taken all together in 12 weeks. So it may seem odd if your employer asks for another letter from your oncologist, saying that you are fit enough to return to work at the end of treatment.

However, many employers may request fitness-for-duty certification. If you have not used your entire allotment of FMLA hours, this certification will signal the end of your use of FMLA. If you have been away from your job for the entire 12-week period, you might not be allowed to return to work until you have given your supervisor some type of fitness-for-duty certification. Keep a copy of that certification, as well as any paperwork that confirms your reinstatement to work.

Vacation Time, Regular Sick Leave, and FMLA Affect Work Issues

Seniority on the job, bonuses, promotions, vacation and regular sick leave may all be affected by your use of FMLA hours.

Be sure to discuss these issues with your supervisor or ask your Human Resources office about their policies on these topics. Understand how FMLA will benefit you and how it may impact other aspects of your life at work. Some employers may require you to use up all other types of accrued leave - vacation and sick leave hours - before using any FMLA hours. If so, be sure to keep copies of documentation for policies as well as your leave time. Having a paper trail that follows your use of leave time may clear up any misunderstandings that may arise.

Key Points About FMLA

  • Your job is protected by Federal law - so take medical leave when needed.
  • Make sure that you and your employer qualify for FMLA.
  • Document the Sick Leave Policy at your job.
  • Keep copies of all paperwork related to your medical leave.
  • Document your use of FMLA hours.
  • Keep lines of communication open between you, your supervisor, and the Human Resources office.
  • Get a clear picture on how using FMLA time might impact other aspects of your life at work.


Family and Medical Leave Act. Wage and Hour Division (WHD). United States Department of Labor. Updated on: December 21, 2009.
Frequently Asked Questions and Answers About the Revisions to the Family and Medical Leave Act, Non-Military Version. United States Department of Labor. Updated on: January 16, 2009. PDF document.

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