The FMLA was intended "to balance the demands of the workplace with the needs of families." The Act allows eligible employees to take up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period to attend to the serious health condition of the employee, parent, spouse or child, or for pregnancy or care of a newborn child, or for adoption or foster care of a child. In order to be eligible for FMLA leave, an employee must have been at the business at least 12 months, and worked at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months, and work at a location where the company employs 50 or more employees within 75 miles. The FMLA covers both public- and private-sector employees, but certain categories of employees are excluded, including elected officials and their personal staff members.
In 2007, the Department of Labor estimated that of the 141.7 million workers in the United States, 94.4 million worked at FMLA-covered worksites, and 76.1 million were eligible for FMLA leave. Between 8 percent and 17.1 percent of covered and eligible workers (or between 6.1 million and 13.0 million workers) took FMLA leave in 2005. The 2008 National Survey of Employers found no statistically significant difference between the proportion of small employers (79%) and large employers (82%) that offer full FMLA coverage.
Benefits for Employees Mandated by the Law
To qualify for the FMLA mandate, a worker must be employed by a business with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius of his or her worksite, or a public agency, including schools and state, local, and federal employers (the 50-employee threshold does not apply to public agency employees and local educational agencies). He or she must also have worked for that employer for at least 12 months (not necessarily consecutive) and 1,250 hours within the last 12 months. (There are special hours rules for certain airline employees.)
The FMLA mandates unpaid, job-protected leave for up to 12 weeks a year:
to care for a new child, whether for the birth of a son or daughter, or for the adoption or placement of a child in foster care;
to care for a seriously ill family member (spouse, son, daughter, or parent) (Note: Son/daughter has been clarified by the Department of Labor to mean a child under the age of 18 or a child over the age of 18 with a mental or physical disability as defined by the American Disabilities Act, which excludes among other conditions, pregnancy and post-partum recovery from childbirth);
to recover from a worker’s own serious illness;
to care for an injured service member in the family; or
to address qualifying exigencies arising out of a family member’s deployment.
Twenty-six workweeks of leave during a single 12-month period to care for a covered servicemember with a serious injury or illness if the eligible employee is the servicemember’s spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin (military caregiver leave).
The FMLA further requires employers to provide for eligible workers:
The same group health insurance benefits, including employer contributions to premiums, that would exist if the employee were not on leave.
Restoration to the same position upon return to work. If the same position is unavailable, the employer must provide the worker with a position that is substantially equal in pay, benefits, and responsibility.
Protection of employee benefits while on leave. An employee is entitled to reinstatement of all benefits to which the employee was entitled before going on leave.
Protection of the employee to not have their rights under the Act interfered with or denied by an employer.
Protection of the employee from retaliation by an employer for exercising rights under the Act.
Intermittent FMLA leave for his or her own serious health condition, or the serious health condition of a family member. This includes occasional leave for doctors’ appointments for a chronic condition, treatment (e.g., physical therapy, psychological counseling,chemotherapy), or temporary periods of incapacity (e.g., severe morning sickness, asthma attack).
Non-eligible workers and types of leave
The federal FMLA does not apply to:
workers in businesses with fewer than 50 employees (this threshold does not apply to public agency employers and local educational agencies);
part-time workers who have worked fewer than 1,250 hours within the 12 months preceding the leave and a paid vacation;
workers who need time off to care for seriously ill elderly relatives (other than parents) or pets;
workers who need time off to recover from short-term or common illness like a cold, or to care for a family member with a short-term illness;
elected officials; and
workers who need time off for routine medical care, such as check-ups.
State-level FMLA benefits
Some states have enacted laws that mandate additional family and medical leave for workers in a variety of ways.
Dropping the employer threshold
The federal FMLA only applies to employers with 50 or more employees. Some states have enacted their own FMLAs that have a lower threshold for employer coverage:
Maine: 15 or more employees (private employers) and 25 or more (city or town employers).
The federal FMLA only applies to immediate family—parent, spouse, and child. The 2008 amendments to the FMLA for military family members extend the FMLA’s protection to next of kin and to adult children. The Department of Labor on June 22, 2010 clarified the definition of "son and daughter" under the FMLA "to ensure that an employee who assumes the role of caring for a child receives parental rights to family leave regardless of the legal or biological relationship" and specifying that "an employee who intends to share in the parenting of a child with his or her same sex partner will be able to exercise the right to FMLA leave to bond with that child." Some states had already expanded the definition of family in their own FMLAs:
District of Columbia: Related to the worker by blood, legal custody, or marriage; person with whom the employee lives and has a committed relationship; child who lives with employee and for whom employee permanently assumes and discharges parental responsibility.
Increasing the uses for FMLA leave
FMLA leave can be used for a worker’s serious health condition, the serious health condition of a family member, or upon the arrival of a new child. State FMLA laws and the new military family provisions of the FMLA have broadened these categories:
Maine: Organ donor; death of employee’s family member if that family member is a servicemember killed while on active duty.
Oregon: Care for the non-serious injury or illness of a child requiring home care.
Other unpaid leave statutes
Several states have passed FMLA-type statutes to give parents unpaid leave to attend their child’s school or educational activities. Examples include: California, District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Vermont. Some states have passed FMLA-type statutes to give workers unpaid leave to take family members to routine medical visits, including Massachusetts and Vermont. And states have passed FMLA-type statutes to give workers unpaid leave to address the effects of domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault. Examples include Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, and Illinois.
Critics of the act have suggested that by mandating various forms of leave that are used more often by female than male employees, the Act, like the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, makes women more expensive to employ than men. They argue that employers will engage in subtle discrimination against women in the hiring process, discrimination which is much less obvious to detect than pregnancy discrimination against the already hired. Supporters counter that the act, in contrast to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, is aimed at both women and men, and is part of an overall strategy to encourage both men and women to take family-related leave.
^"Family and Medical Leave Act Regulations: A Report on the Department of Labor’s Request for Information." 28 June 2007. Department of Labor, Employment Standards Administration, Wage and Hour Division. Federal Register, Vol. 72, No. 124. 
^Galinsky, E., Bond, J., Sakai, K., Kim, S., Giuntoli, N. 2008. National study of employers. New York, NY: Families and Work Institute. 
FMLA Insightshttp://www.fmlainsights.com: a blog authored by Franczek Radelet attorney Jeff Nowak to help employers understand and administer FMLA and to keep employers up to date on changes in the FMLA