In April 2021, approximately 3.7 million Americans collected unemployment benefits according to the Department of Labor. By April 2022, that number had dropped to about 1.38 million. At the same time, 15% of United States employees reported taking leave for a valid Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) reason in the past 12 months.
So what’s the intersection between these two benefits? Can an employee collect unemployment while on family medical leave? Generally, the answer is no, but there are gray areas where exceptions may apply. Here are some more details about FMLA leave and unemployment.
The Family and Medical Leave Act was signed into law in 1993 to protect eligible employees’ jobs. FMLA also continues their health insurance while they’re out on qualifying leave. The typical amount of allowable leave is 12 weeks, although it depends on the circumstances.
For instance, if an employee takes FMLA to care for a new baby, a sick spouse, or a serious medical condition, they receive 12 weeks of leave within a 12-month period. If employees are on FMLA leave to care for a military service family member, they receive up to 26 weeks of leave within a 12-month period.
The law looks to three areas to determine an employee’s eligibility for FMLA.
For an employer to receive coverage, it must be a public agency, a school, or a private employer with 50 or more employees. The employee must have worked for at least 12 months for at least 1,250 hours in that time. The nature of the leave must also fall within the parameters outlined in the FMLA statute.
Whether you qualify for unemployment benefits, known as unemployment insurance, or unemployment while on family medical leave, both hinge on the definition of “unemployed.” For purposes of collecting unemployment, people are unemployed if they’re out of work or have had their hours reduced through no fault of their own. The exact definition of unemployment will depend on state labor laws.
Including someone on family medical leave under the definition of unemployed is the exception rather than the rule, but some states do provide benefits in these cases. For states that don’t, the sticking point is that people on family medical leave are technically still employed, despite the fact that they’re not working. In other words, when their leave ends, their job, by law, will still be there and always was.
Conversely, for states that consider some FMLA recipients unemployed, their rationale centers on the fact that the employee isn’t performing work or receiving a wage. Regardless, an employee can almost always apply for unemployment benefits if their leave ends and he or she is still unable to return to work.
While those on qualifying FMLA generally aren’t eligible for unemployment, states have different laws governing employees’ eligibility status. The only way to know for sure if you qualify is to consult with an experienced employment law attorney. Cokinos Young is a multistate law firm with years of experience in labor laws. Get in touch with the law firm to find out more about FMLA unemployment qualifications today.