FMLA: Calculating the 12-Month Time Period

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was passed 25 years ago. Upon its passing, eligible employees could take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave within a 12 month period for qualifying medical and family reasons. This unpaid, job-protected leave could be used in order to care for a new baby, adopted or foster child, or to take care of themselves or a family member’s serious medical condition. The FMLA sets a minimum standard that all states must follow and allows for four different ways to calculate the 12 month period. It is important to note that states can also pass their own laws regarding leave as long as it meets the minimum standards that the FMLA sets forth, so you need to know your state’s regulations.

  • The Calendar Year: This method is the most straight forward. An eligible employee can take 12 weeks of FMLA leave at any time during the year. Potentially, an employee could wind up “stacking” time, using 12 weeks of leave at the end of the year and then using another 12 weeks at the start of the new calendar year.

  • Any Fixed 12 Month Period: The fixed 12 month period calculation is similar to the calendar year calculation. However, the year can be determined as the company’s fiscal year or can start on an employee’s anniversary date. Similar to the calendar year method, an employee could use their leave at the end of the 12 month period, and then take another 12 weeks at the start of the next period.

  • First Day of Leave; Measuring Forward: Using this method, the 12 month period is determined by the date that an employee first takes leave. For example, an employee takes an FMLA leave starting on November 1, 2018. They then have 12 weeks of eligible leave time to be used between that date and October 31, 2019. The next 12 month period would start no earlier than November 1, 2019, or later, depending on when they next used FMLA leave.

  • First Day of Leave; Measuring Backward: This is probably the most complicated method to use and requires more administrative time to track. This is sometimes also referred to as the “rolling” calculation method. When using this method, you look back at the preceding 12 month period to determine how much leave time an employee has remaining. For example, the employee starts a leave on November 1, 2018. The employer would look at the time period preceding that, November 2, 2017 to the current date, and calculate how much FMLA time had been used and what balance is remaining.

No matter which method an employee chooses to use to calculate FMLA leave, it must be applied consistently to all employees. You need to ensure that the method used is clearly stated in written policy since neglecting to do so will result in the employee being able to use whichever method is most beneficial to them. You can change the calculation method used, but must provide employees with at least 60 days’ notice and the transition to the new method cannot cause them to lose out on any leave they are eligible to take.

The federal and state laws concerning FMLA are complicated and administering the programs can be time consuming. Contact us here at De Novo HRC if you have questions or need assistance.

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