Remote Work Glossary

What is a medical leave of absence

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    A medical leave of absence is a type of leave in the US. The leave enables employees to take time off work in an emergency for an extended period of time to recover from a physical and/or mental health condition or take care of a family member with a medical condition or disability.

    In the US, a medical leave of absence is distinct from other types of leave, such as paid sick leave, mental health days, disability leave, or paid time off (PTO). Medical leave of absence is specifically for employees experiencing exceptional, unplanned medical circumstances to take time off work.

    Who is eligible for a medical leave of absence?

    In the US, an employer can grant medical leave of absence for one or more of the following reasons:

    • For the birth of a child

    • For the placement of an adopted or fostered child

    • to care for an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent – but not a parent “in-law”) with a serious health condition;

    • To take medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition; or

    • For qualifying difficulties arising out of an employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent on covered active duty or call to covered active duty status as a member of the National Guard, Reserves, or Regular Armed Forces

    • To care for a covered servicemember with a serious injury or illness

    The US federal law requires employers to give employees unpaid, job-protected leave if they meet the following eligibility requirements:

    • The employee has worked for a covered employer for at least 12 months that need not be consecutive.

    • The employee has worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months immediately before the first day of the requested leave.

    Suppose an employee does not qualify for FMLA. In that case, they may be entitled to a non-FMLA leave under a company’s collective bargaining agreement or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

    Employers cannot force employees to take leave, especially if they can do their job with reasonable accommodation.

    How long is a medical leave of absence in the US?

    In the US, a covered employer must grant an eligible employee up to 12 weeks of leave in a 12-month period depending on their medical reasons.

    An employer can require medical certification to support a request for leave because of a serious health condition and require second or third opinions (at the employer’s expense) and a fitness for duty report before returning to work.

    Employees have job protection throughout their absence and retain their health insurance coverage with their healthcare provider.

    Is medical leave of absence paid or unpaid in the US?

    In the US, medical leave of absence is unpaid. However, suppose an employee’s leave extends six (6) months or longer. In that case, they may be eligible to apply for short-term or long-term disability benefits.

    Short-term disability leave is less than 12 months, while long-term disability may last over a year.

    Is it mandatory for companies to offer employees a medical leave of absence?

    In the US, a medical leave of absence is mandatory and is administered by the U.S. Department of Labor under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

    The family medical leave act applies to all:

    • Public agencies, including local, State, and Federal employers, and local education agencies (schools); and

    • Private sector employers who employ 50 or more employees for at least 20 workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year – including joint employers and successors of covered employers.

    Can US employers provide medical leave of absence in addition to other time off benefits?

    Yes. Depending on company policies, an employer may provide extra employee benefits such as paid parental leave in addition to medical leave of absence. 

    A company’s leave policy will vary based on state law and should be documented in writing and incorporated into an employee handbook.