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What the new year means for FMLA leave

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires covered employers to provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of leave per year for certain qualifying reasons, like a serious health condition or the birth of a child. For employees who need to take all, or close to all, of the 12 weeks they are entitled to, they should know how their employers calculate their leave years. This is because every time a new leave year begins, employees get 12 more weeks of FMLA leave.

Under the FMLA, an employer can choose one of four ways to calculate its leave year:

  1. the calendar year;
  2. a fixed 12-month period other than the calendar year, such as a fiscal year;
  3. a 12-month period measured forward from the date an employee’s first FMLA leave period begins; or
  4. a “rolling” 12-month period measured backward from the date an employee uses FMLA leave

While the law is clear that employers can choose which leave year to utilize, some employers do not choose. If an employer fails to choose, the leave year that is most beneficial to an employee in need of FMLA leave is the leave year that the employer must utilize. That leave year is often the calendar year.

Under the calendar year method of calculating the leave year, an employee’s 12 week FMLA leave entitlement renews every calendar year. Thus, an employee could take FMLA leave during the final 12 weeks of one calendar year and another 12 weeks of FMLA leave during the beginning of the next calendar year, for a combined total of 24 weeks. So, if you took a lot of FMLA leave in the fall of 2016 but you think you’re going to need more in the winter of 2017, consult your employee handbook or other written policies to determine if your employer has chosen a leave year. If it has not, your FMLA leave entitlement may have renewed when 2017 began and you will be entitled to another 12 weeks of leave.

If you find yourself in a situation where you are going to need to take a lot of FMLA leave, you should ask your employer to provide you with all policies that relate to FMLA leave. It is possible that your employer may have a leave year policy that it informed you of but you have forgotten about it. Be mindful, however, that your employer cannot choose a leave year calculation method in response to a FMLA leave request just so that it can minimize the amount of leave that the employee can take. Under FMLA regulations, employers must give employees 60 days notice of the leave year calculation method that it intends to use.

The Maine Employee Rights Group has decades of combined experience representing workers that have experienced violations of their FMLA rights. If you believe your employer has violated your FMLA rights, contact us for a free consultation.