Start ‘leave meter’ running at first absence

Issue: When does FMLA leave begin? How soon do you need to notify employees on leave?

Benefit: A new court ruling clarifies that those 12 weeks begin with the first absence.

Action: Notify leave-takers in writing when their leave began, so it's not open to debate. 

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave each year. But when do those 12 weeks officially begin?

A new court ruling has made it clear that the clock starts ticking on the day of the employee's first absence, not the day you officially notify the employee that his or her leave is covered under FMLA.


Recent case: After a complicated birth, an office manager started FMLA leave in April. But, in an effort to extend her leave, she argued that her employer didn't officially approve her FMLA leave until three months later. So, she claimed, that later date should represent the start of her 12 weeks of allowable FMLA leave. The company disagreed and stuck with the April date.

She sued, claiming an FMLA violation. A court sided with the company, saying the employee wasn't entitled to a leave windfall even if the company failed to immediately designate the leave as FMLA leave. (Myrick v. Aramark Corp., N.D.Ill., 2004)