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Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

Many working parents of children with cancer can use the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to take time off to care for their son or daughter.

The federal law compels certain employers to provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave to employees who meet the law’s requirements.

In addition, some state and local governments have their own regulations concerning family leave. In many cases, they are more generous than FMLA. The U.S. Department of Labor has links to webpages of states that have similar statutes.

Parents are encouraged to contact the human resources department of their company for more information and required forms. Social workers can assist parents with getting required forms completed.

An open book on a table next to a stethoscope and a pair of glasses. The book says FMLA Family Medical Leave Act.

Workplaces that must provide FMLA leave

Covered employers include:

  • Public agencies, including local, state, and federal employers, and schools
  • Private sector businesses that employ 50 or more employees

Eligible employees

An employee must work:

  • For a covered employer at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months before the start of leave. Any military service during this period must be counted toward time worked.
  • The 12 months of employment do not have to be consecutive. But any break in service of 7 years or more does not count unless it fulfilled a military obligation or is covered by a collective bargaining or other written agreement.

What FMLA provides 


  • Provides eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year to care for an immediate family member who has a serious health condition, which is an illness or impairment that involves inpatient care or continuing treatment by a health care provider. Childhood cancer qualifies as a serious health condition.
  • Requires employers to continue the employee’s same group health benefits during the leave.
  • Requires employers to return the employee to the same or an equivalent job at the end of the FMLA leave.

How to arrange leave

According to FMLA:

  • Employees are required to provide 30-day notice when the need for leave is foreseeable. If the need for leave is immediate, the employee must provide notice as soon as possible, generally the same or next business day.
  • Employees must provide enough information for an employer to reasonably determine whether the FMLA applies. When an employer approves the leave, it must explain specific expectations and obligations related to the leave. This notice may include medical certification. It may also include the employee’s right to substitute paid leave.

The FMLA only requires unpaid leave. However, the law permits an employee to choose, or the employer to require, the employee to use paid vacation, sick, or family leave for some or all of the leave. An employee must follow the employer’s normal leave rules to use paid leave. This paid leave is FMLA-protected.

Medical certification

An employer may require medical certification from a health care provider. In most cases, the employer should request it within 5 business days of the leave request.

  • The employer must allow the employee at least 15 calendar days to obtain the necessary information.
  • An employer must tell the employee if it finds the certification incomplete and state in writing what additional information is needed. It must allow the employee at least 7 days to gather needed information.
  • If an employee does not provide either a sufficient certification or an authorization allowing the health care provider to provide a certification, the employee's request for FMLA leave may be denied.
  • If an employee fails to timely submit a properly requested medical certification (absent sufficient explanation of the delay), FMLA protection for the leave may be delayed or denied. If the employee never provides a medical certification, then the leave is not FMLA leave.
  • Employees do not have to share their child’s medical records.
  • An employer may not require an employee to sign a release or waiver. Completing any such authorization is up to the employee.
  • An employer may require a second or third medical opinion (at the employer’s expense) if it has reason to doubt the truth of the medical certification.

Returning to work after FMLA leave

The FMLA requires that the employer return the employee to the same job or one that is equivalent.

If not returned to the same job, a job must:

  • Offer the same shift or general work schedule
  • Be at the same or nearby worksite
  • Involve the same or substantially similar duties, responsibilities, and status
  • Offer identical pay and benefits

For more information about FMLA visit the Department of Labor’s Frequently Ask Questions or Fact Sheet.

Reviewed: June 2018