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FMLA and the ongoing health crisis

| Jan 5, 2021 | Employment Law

The federal Family Medical Leave Act guarantees leave for employees taking care of sick family members. Several new employment law issues concerning the FMLA and its application to workers arose during the current health crisis.


Workers who are sick or need to care for sick family members may be entitled up to 12 weeks of unpaid and protected leave in a specified 12-month leave year. A worker is eligible if they worked for a covered employer for at least 12 months, have at least 1,250 service hours over the previous 12 months and worked at a location where at least 50 employees are employed by an employer within 75 miles.

Employees on FMLA leave may receive continued group health insurance coverage under the same conditions as the coverage they would had received if they were continuously employed during that leave time.

FMLA coverage applies to a flu that creates a serious health condition defined under the FMLA. A serious health condition may include incapacitation by the virus where there are complications. FMLA may also cover workers who must care for covered family incapacitated by a serious health condition.

Under federal law, employees are not entitled to paid leave if they have this disease, were exposed to someone with the disease or are caring for someone with disease. If leave is protected by FMLA, employees may choose or employers may require the substitution of paid, sick, vacation or personal leave in some cases.

Lay offs

Employers may not lay off an employee who is covered by the FMLA if they need to care for a spouse, child, or a parent with a serious health condition for up to 12 weeks within a 12-month period.

Students home from school

Federal law does not require coverage for non-government for taking off work to care for healthy children. Employers do not have to grant leave to employees caring for dependents who were dismissed from school or childcare.


When FMLA ends, employers must reinstate the employee to the same or an equivalent job. But workers are not protected from action that would have occurred if they were not on FMLA leave. If a shift was eliminated or overtime was decreased for reasons unrelated to FMLA covered leave, for example, the employee is not entitled to return to that shift or receive the original overtime.

Workers may be able to stay at home through options such as telework. Other federal and Iowa laws may also provide additional rights. An attorney can advice workers on these options and help assure their rights are protected.