FMLA – Family and Medical Leave Act

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), covered federal employees are entitled to a total of 12 administrative work weeks of unpaid leave (leave without pay) during any 12-month period for:

  • the birth of a son or daughter and care of the newborn;
  • the placement of a son or daughter with you for adoption or foster care;
  • the care of your spouse, son, daughter, or parent with a serious health condition; and
  • your own serious health condition that makes you unable to perform the duties of your position.

A “serious health condition” includes such conditions as cancer, heart attacks, strokes, severe injuries, Alzheimer’s disease, pregnancy, and childbirth. The term “serious health condition” is not intended to cover short-term conditions for which treatment and recovery are very brief.


The common cold, the flu, earaches, upset stomach, headaches (other than migraines), routine dental or orthodontia problems, etc., are not considered serious health conditions unless complications arise.

The federal employee must provide notice of his or her intent to take family and medical leave not less than 30 days before leave is to begin or as soon as is practicable. An employee may not invoke entitlement to FMLA leave retroactively for any previous absence from work.

Note: In addition to this entitlement, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation provide six weeks per 12 months of paid leave, without charge to another form of leave, for these same purposes.

Certification for FMLA Leave

An agency may request medical certification for FMLA leave taken to care for an employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent who has a serious health condition or for the serious health condition of the employee.

The term “spouse” does not include unmarried domestic partners unless they meet applicable requirements of common-law marriage.

The law also provides intermittent leave for chronic conditions. In such cases, an agency may require recertification of the health condition every 30 calendar days or more frequently if it receives information that casts doubt upon the continuing validity of the original medical certification.


Agencies may establish a uniformly applied practice or policy that requires all similarly situated employees (that is, same occupation, same serious health condition) who take Family and Medical Leave Act leave for a serious health condition to provide medical certification to return to work. The information on the medical certification to return to work must relate only to the serious health condition for which FMLA leave was taken.

While on FMLA leave, you are entitled to maintain health benefits coverage. If you are on leave without pay under the FMLA, you are still responsible for paying the employee share of the health benefits premium.

You may choose to substitute annual leave for unpaid leave under the FMLA. You may also substitute sick leave in those situations in which the use of sick leave is permitted. And you may use earned compensatory time off and credit hours in addition to the period of FMLA leave.

Upon return from FMLA leave, you must be returned to the same or equivalent position.

Eligible family members are defined in the FMLA law (see 5 CFR 630.1201 for the implementing rules for federal employees) and differ from those eligible under certain other programs in which leave can be taken for family-related purposes.