Maternity, adoption and family leave refer to time off given to employees who have a child, adopt a child or have to take care of an ailing family member. You may choose to provide leave for these events, or in some cases you might be legally required to provide leave.

Family and Medical Leave Act

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires that most employers with more than 50 employees provide their workers with medical leave. You have to allow employees who require it 12 weeks of leave during each 12 month period for:

  • The birth and care of newborn children.
  • The time associated with adopting or placing a child for adoption.
  • Caring for an immediate family member (parent, child or spouse) who is sick.
  • An employee’s own medical leave when the employee experiences a major illness.

In addition, there is a military family medical leave act, passed in 2009 as part of that year’s National Defense Authorization Act:

  • If your employee has a child, parent or spouse who are currently on active duty or who have been called up they are entitled to as much as 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a medical emergency arising from a family member’s active military duty.
  • Serious injuries and illness might warrant a 26-week leave.


Employees are eligible for the FMLA once they’ve been employed for 12 months. They must also have worked 1,250 hours over the last 12 months. You must also employ 50 people within a 75 mile radius of where that employee works.

Other Things You Need to Know About FMLA

Some other important tidbits you need to know about the Family Medical Leave Act:

  • Employees can take the FMLA on an intermittent basis and can even take it on a half-time basis.
  • You have to maintain an employee’s health care coverage while they are on medical leave.

Your human resources manager needs to be up to speed on the details of the FMLA. There are stiff fines for violating it and ignorance of the law is no defense.

Other Medical Leave Laws

California has a paid family medical leave act, in place since 2002. Other states also have laws on family and medical leave that exist in addition to the federal FMLA. Your human resources department should also be aware of these laws, due to the fines and bad press that can result from failure to obey these laws. Remember, if your company has a paid medical leave act, it must be enforced consistently amongst all employees. You can also require employees to take their paid vacation leave as part of your medical leave. Consult with your legal department to see how these laws apply to you.

Leave and Your Company

As stated above, in many cases you might not have a choice about providing medical leave, maternity leave or leave for adoption. Follow the law and enforce your policies consistently for the best effect.

Photo courtesy of LaoWai Kevin