The Ultimate Guide to Family & Medical Leave for Small Businesses

Tom Quinn |
Tom (he/him) is a growth marketing manager at Snagajob helping small businesses find hourly workers.

The Family Medical Leave Act, which has been law since 1993, has been particularly important over the past two years. Giving people the flexibility they need to care for children, parents, or themselves, the act allows people to leave work and return without punishment. They can take leave for a certain period and return to their job without worrying that they will be replaced.

Because of FMLA, eligible workers are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year, all while their job is protected while they are gone.

As the Department of Labor describes it, FMLA means that workers do not have to “choose between the job they need and the family they love.”


FMLA for Small Business: Your Simple Guide


What are the Situations That Qualify for FMLA?

When writing the law in the early 1990’s, the United States Congress laid specific situations that qualify for FMLA leave, including FMLA for small businesses.

The most common is the birth of a child. If a child is born, both the mother and father are eligible for up to 12 weeks of leave. This law also applies if someone is adopting a child or placing a child in foster care.

FMLA also allows for leave if an employee is suffering from a serious health condition or if they are caring for their spouse, child, or parent. So if an employee, for example, has a sick parent that needs their care, FMLA allows them to take leave without concern that they will lose their job.

Finally, the law applies to active service members. If an employee’s spouse, child, or parent is on or called to active duty, they are eligible for leave.

There are, however, similar situations where employees are not eligible for protection through FMLA. These situations include temporary illness like the common cold or flu, as well as taking time to move into a new home. Time off for vacations, travel, and hobbies are also not eligible, as they are not related (at least not directly) to overall health.


Who is Eligible for Protect Leave Through FMLA?

Not all employees are eligible for the protection of FMLA, and not all employers are required to honor the law.

First, let’s look at the employer requirements. Many people wonder “does FMLA apply to small businesses?”. Private employers must follow the rules of FMLA if they have over 50 employees for at least 20 weeks throughout the current or previous year. So FMLA for small companies may not be required by law.

However, even if a business has less than 50 employees, they may need to offer FMLA benefits. There are FMLA requirements for small business if the company meets certain conditions.

Integrated employers and joint employers, for example, may need to offer FMLA benefits. Integrated employers are companies that own multiple branches or locations under common management and interrelated operations. Joint employers use an employee-sharing or leasing service. If a business fits one of these two descriptions, they must count the employees from all locations and if the total is 50 or more, they must honor FMLA.

So are small businesses exempt from FMLA? Some, in fact, are not forced to meet the requirements of this law.


How Can Employees Use FMLA

To use FMLA, employees need to follow a simple and straightforward process. Once they have confirmed that their employer is required to follow FMLA rules, they should notify the employee of their intended leave, including, if at all possible, the dates that they will leave and return. If the event is foreseeable, such as a birth, adoption, or military scheduling, employees should give at lease 30 days notice.

 The employer will then take that information and within five days notify the employee whether or not they will honor FMLA benefits. At this time, they should provide the employee with rights and responsibilities, as well as any requests for further information or certification. The employee then has 15 days to provide certification and within 5 days the employer must notify their approval or denial.


Can An Employer Deny FMLA?

Denial of FMLA benefits, while rare if you have properly applied, could be legitimate. Employees who give clear notice that they will not return, for example, are not eligible for FMLA protection. Also, if the leave goes beyond the 12-week timeframe, the employee may be ineligible and the employer can fill their position.

It’s possible to have a request denied if that person is a “key employee.” To use this option, the employer has to show that keeping the position unfilled would cause harm to the company. The employee needs to be informed of this status.



There are two laws that are similar to FMLA. 

Paid Family Medical Leave (PFML)

These are state-level laws that have been created in addition to FMLA. They are not used by all states, but in areas where they are implemented they provide further protection for employees and their families. In Massachusetts, for example, PFML is a state-funded payment that is available to people who take leave for medical reasons.

Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)

This is actually an expired law that was part of the 2020 response to COVID-19. This law, which expired at the end of December 2020, provided nutrition assistance, paid sick leave, enhanced unemployment insurance, and free virus testing.

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