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The Family and Medical Leave Act

The Family and Medical Leave Act took effect in 1993. Before this law was enacted, many American employees were unable to take time off from work in family emergencies for fear of losing their jobs. It was enacted to help workers with the precarious balance between job and family. Under the FMLA, an employee is eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a year’s time to:

attend to the birth or adoption of a child

care for a child, spouse or parent who is ill

recover from a personal illness or the effects of a medical treatment

The employer must not only allow an employee to take the leave, but also must allow the employee to return to the same or a similar position to the one he or she held before it. During the leave, the employer must continue to make the same benefit contributions, such as paying insurance policy premiums, as the employee was receiving before going on leave. However, seniority and pension benefits need not accrue during an employee’s leave. Employers who violate the Act, including its provisions against retaliating against those who take advantage of its protections, may be required to pay backpay, damages, attorneys’ and expert witnesses’ fees–and importantly, for the cost of up to 12 weeks of caring for a child, spouse or parent.

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