What is the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)?
FMLA is a law that protects workers who must miss work due to their own serious health condition or to care for a family member, such as a child, spouse, or parent with a serious health condition.
Diabetes qualifies as a serious condition if it requires in-patient care (hospitalization) or if it requires you to go to the doctor at least twice a year.
If you qualify under FMLA, your employer is required to allow you to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. This leave can be taken all at once, for example 12 back-to-back weeks; or in smaller chunks, for example an hour at a time when needed (this is called intermittent leave).
FMLA also allows a parent to take leave to care for a child with diabetes, for example when a child is newly diagnosed or is hospitalized, or to respond to a diabetes emergency at school.
How do I know whether I qualify?
You must have worked for the same employer for twelve consecutive months and for at least 1,250 hours in those twelve months. The employer must have at least 50 employees within 75 miles of each other.
Can my employer require me to use up my vacation or sick leave before I can use FMLA leave?
Yes. Your employer may require you to use up any accrued leave you have, and can count this against the 12 weeks of leave you are entitled to have. If your employer pays employees for vacation and sick leave, it must also pay you for this accrued leave even if it is used against your FMLA allotment.
What information do I have to provide to get FMLA leave?
Once you notify your employer, your employer will give you paperwork that you and your doctor or your family member’s doctor must complete. Your employer must give you 15 days to complete the paperwork.
The doctor must provide specific information explaining why you need to take leave for your own or a family member’s diabetes. The doctor must also state how long this need for leave will last. Saying that you or your family member has diabetes and that you may need time off is not enough to qualify for FMLA leave. The doctor may have to specify, for example, that diabetes requires regular doctor visits to monitor your diabetes care, adjust medication, and check for complications. Your doctor may also need to state that it will be medically necessary to take extended time off for surgery or to take shorter leave to treat hypoglycemia.
Once you turn in all the paperwork, your employer generally will have to tell you within 5 days whether you qualify to take the requested FMLA leave.
What if I didn’t know I would need FMLA ahead of time?
If you suddenly need FMLA leave, for example you or a family member are hospitalized and diagnosed with diabetes for the first time, your employer must designate the leave as FMLA leave within 2 days of learning that you are absent for an FMLA-qualifying reason.
The employer may retroactively apply FMLA if you were unable to inform the employer that you would be absent for an FMLA-qualifying reason until after you missed some work already. You must inform the employer as soon as reasonably possible that you need leave under FMLA.
When you are able, you will have to complete the FMLA paperwork, and the employer can remove the approval of your FMLA leave if, for example, you fail to provide the appropriate paperwork once you are able to provide it.
Can I be turned down for FMLA leave?
In certain circumstances, yes.
If you fail to fill out the paperwork properly and do not respond to your employer’s requests to correct the information, you can be denied. If it is not medically necessary for you to miss work due to your condition or a family member’s condition, you can be denied.
If you have already exhausted the full 12 weeks of leave, you can be denied
What do I need to do once I’m approved and I want to use my FMLA leave?
If you are using leave for a single block of time your paperwork should specify when the leave will begin and end. If you need more leave than was certified, you will need to inform your employer of the need for additional leave (which, under FMLA, still cannot exceed 12 weeks) and your employer may request additional paperwork.
If you want to return to work early, you must first get permission from your employer, who may want additional paperwork from your doctor. Stay in communication with your employer during your leave as much as possible.
If you are using intermittent leave, and the need for intermittent leave is something you would know about in advance — such as a scheduled doctor’s appointment — you must inform your employer 30 days in advance. If the need for leave is not something you could know about in advance, you can still use your intermittent FMLA leave, but you must inform your employer that you need to use FMLA leave as soon as you are aware that you need leave and are reasonably able to contact the employer.
For example, if you experience severe neuropathy pain one morning before work but you are able to make a phone call, you will generally have to follow your employer’s regular “call-in” procedure to inform your employer that you will be unable to come in at your usual time and that you would like to use FMLA leave for that morning.
If you are unable to request FMLA leave until after you have missed work— for example, you experience severe hypoglycemia and miss work— you must notify the employer as soon as possible once you are able to ask that the missed work be covered by FMLA leave. This allows the employer to apply FMLA to the missed time.
What if I use my full 12 weeks of leave and still need more?
In addition to qualifying for FMLA leave because of a serious health condition, people with diabetes generally qualify for reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other federal and state antidiscrimination laws. Depending on the circumstances, your employer may be obligated to give you additional unpaid leave, whether for a single period or intermittently, if you request a reasonable accommodation.
What happens when I am ready to come back to work?
Your employer must return you to the same position you had before you took FMLA leave, or to a position that is very similar in description, pay, and benefits.
What can I do if my employer prevents me from using FMLA or otherwise denies me my FMLA rights?
You can file a complaint with the Department of Labor (DOL) or file a lawsuit in court. You do not have to file with DOL before going to court.
Where can I find additional information about the FMLA?
Additional resources about FMLA are available on the Department of Labor (DOL) website.