The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has allowed for workers to be able to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid off for the birth of their child or to care for a family member within a rolling 12-month period.

While this can be a great convenience in a variety of situations, the process of getting that time off may not always be straight forward.

To begin the process of obtaining your leave, you must first understand the guidelines and determine if you are eligible. Eligible workers include new parents along with adoptive and foster parents, those taking care of a close relative with a documented illness and workers who are sick and have a severe medical illness.

It’s a good idea to start by taking to your employer and find out company guidelines are related to FMLA leave. First, determine how much time you have with your organization. While your company may be mandated by law to give you 12 weeks each year of unpaid time off under FMLA, you must have worked over 1,250 hours in the past 12 months to have earned your unpaid time. Additionally, only companies with a staff of 50 or more employee who all live within 75 miles of the main office are covered under the FMLA.

Next, sit down with the proper representative from your employer, such as a human resources representative or a person of authority who is unbiased about your potential unpaid leave. This will allow you to become familiar with a lot your company’s policies–or at the minimum, get a current copy of the policies.

Look at any accrued vacation time, sick days or other types of paid leave that you might have. You should consider conserving your FMLA leave time if at all possible since it might be necessary for a different reason later.

Once you and your employer have determined that FMLA leave is appropriate, you should determine if an intermittent leave will benefit you based on your medical situation. As you cannot manage when you will be sick, you will have the option to use days under the FMLA as needed. The intermittent time is deducted from the overall quantity of time your leave allows. If you choose to take this kind of leave, you will have to fill out your FMLA paperwork accordingly.

After settling on the type of leave, you will receive the FMLA leave forms from your company. You should note the day they are due since you may have a couple of weeks to finish them. This may not be much time, especially if you have to give FMLA paperwork to your healthcare provider. Furthermore, some doctor’s offices demand a small charge for their role in handling the FMLA paperwork, so check in with your doctor’s policy.

When your FMLA paperwork is finished, make duplicates. If they get lost at your workplace, you still can possess proof of your filling and might avoid starting over or even worse consequences. If you have chosen an intermittent leave, track the amount of time or times you take off to monitor your total time.

FMLA Paperwork: Case Studies

Some recent legal cases have involved FMLA paper work.

In Bellone v. Southwick-Tolland Reg. Sch. Dist., the plaintiff, was a school teacher who presented validation from a mental health professional declaring that he was not able to work for a prolonged stretch of time. The school district supplied him with leave, but failed to send the FMLA paperwork notifying him until many weeks after the legal deadline, and did not deliver the designation notification until after leave had expired. The plaintiff subsequently quit when he came back to a position he could not agree to, and sued under the school district. The plaintiff claimed that the late notices blocked his rights to take leave under the FMLA.

Another recent case emphasized the employee’s obligation when asking for medical leave and the needed FMLA paperwork.

When Samuel Cavin suffered a motorcycle accident, he called into a security at his workplace and told the operator on the other end that he’d be out for the day. He continued to make that same call for the rest of the week – without requesting FMLA leave or paperwork. While company security mentioned Cavin’s absence, it did not – in accordance with company guidelines – list a reason for it.

The next week, when Cavin returned to work with written permission from his doctor, he was notified of his termination for violating company policy. According to the company, employees absent longer than three days must call into, not the security desk, but to the HR and request a leave of absence.

Cavin proceeded to sue his company and lose the case. The court said that the employer’s policy was clearly explained in its handbook, and Cavin had, in fact, not given his company ample notice, especially considering the fact that there was no FMLA paperwork documenting his illness or request for unpaid leave.

In another case showing the disastrous effects of supervisors who do not comply with their FMLA responsibilities – CVS had to pay an employee at an AIDS/HIV specialty pharmacy nearly $280,000 simply because supervisors neglected to offer the FMLA paperwork necessary for medical leave.

In the case, an HIV-positive worker, who worked at a CVS store in San Francisco, wanted the FMLA paperwork required to decrease his work schedule, because he was becoming more and more fatigued and the ill. A jury later discovered supervisors were responsible for delaying offering the mandatory FMLA paperwork to reduce his week from five days to four. The employee was forced to resign for health reasons.

Keeping FMLA Paperwork Straight

These case studies illustrate just what can go wrong when it comes to correctly delivering and completing FMLA paperwork. In order to keep all the times and guidelines straight, many companies use Qcera’s software and web-based management solutions. These Qcera products all come with comprehensive customer service provided by the company.