Family Leave

    How it Works for Working Parents

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    In the last few weeks, five of my mom friends have welcomed new babies into their families, and two more are expecting this fall. Visiting them reminds me of how precious newborns are – and just how much time they take. Amidst the cuddles, there are cycles of feeding and changing, doctor’s visits, laundry, shopping, cooking. You get the picture: New parents are a busy lot.

    Even households with one stay-athome parent strain under the time crunches of new parenthood. With the addition of a new child, families may find it necessary or desirable to have one, or both, parents take time off work. The federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides certain workers with guaranteed leave, and knowing your rights can help you prepare your work schedule. Here are the basics:

    Only certain employers are required to provide leave under the FMLA. All companies with at least 50 employees must adhere to the FMLA, including private companies and local, state, and federal government agencies. If your employer has fewer than 50 employees, the FMLA does not apply.

    Employees must meet the following criteria to be eligible for leave under the FMLA: (1) You must have worked for the employer for a minimum of 12 months; (2) you must have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months leading up to the leave; and (3) there must be at least 50 employees within 75 miles of your actual workplace in order for you to qualify. For example, if you work for a private company with 100 employees, 99 of whom are in Boston, with you here in Richmond, you are out of luck.

    The FMLA provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period. Qualifying events include the birth and care of a newborn child of the employee, prenatal care and delivery, and placement of a child with the employee for adoption or foster care. The FMLA applies to both mothers and fathers, but if both spouses work for the same employer, they are only guaranteed a combined total of 12 weeks of family leave for one birth, adoption, or foster placement. Note that medical leave for the mother may extend the time.

    During FMLA leave, group health insurance continues, if already provided by the employer. But beware – in certain circumstances, employers may be able to recover costs for this if the employee fails to return to work.

    In some instances, accrued paid leave may be used to cover some of the FMLA leave. Work with your employer on this, as it is determined by the terms and conditions of the employer’s normal leave policy.

    Virginia does not have its own additional parental leave laws; the FMLA is the only mandated law. However, it’s wise to inquire if your employer offers more benefits, such as paid time off, flex-time, or an extension on FMLA leave time. Whatever you decide, make every moment with your new child count. I will never forget those quiet moments feeding my daughter, cuddling her tiny body against me and cherishing the newness of parenthood.