The Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 USC 2612, was enacted to allow workers flexibility in scheduling time for medical problems and to alleviate some of the tension caused by the competing demands of work and family. Generally speaking, the act provides employees who have a "serious health condition" with an unpaid medical leave for up to 12 weeks per year. The employer must hold open a job for an employee on FMLA leave during the medical leave period.
Not all employees are eligible for an FMLA leave. Employees must have worked for the employer for 12 months before the leave begins and must have worked 1250 hours (about 24 hours per week on average) during the previous 12 months. Only employers who employ at least 50 employees at the location where the employee works (other locations within 75 miles of the employee's location may also be considered) are covered.
There are a few common misperceptions about the FMLA.
First, an employee does not have to use the words "FMLA" or "leave of absence" in order to be protected from being fired during if the employee misses work due to an injury or illness. He or see only needs to give the employer "enough information so that the employer may conclude that the employee has a serious health condition necessitating his absence."
Second, the damages in an FMLA case are not limted to income lost during the 12 week leave period permitted by the statute. Violating the FMLA may expose an employer to damages for lost wages well beyond the date the employee would have returned to work. FMLA liability includes an obligation for reinsatement, back pay, penalty or liquidated (double) damages , attorney fees, and costs of litigation.
The US Department of Labor has published the regulations governing the FMLA in a simple to read and understand question and answer format. The regulations may be found at this link: http://www.dol.gov/esa/regs/compliance/whd/whdfs28.htm