tea.jpgMany of Minnesota’s small businesses rely on a few reliable employees to maintain daily operations. If even one or two of these valuable persons takes an extended leave, it can place significant strain on the overall business.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires certain employers to allow employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year to care for their own health, or their immediate family member’s serious health condition, and for the birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a child. A twelve-week leave can obviously place significant strain on a small business, so what is a small business to do?

How small is small?

First, the characterization of a “small” business is a bit in the eye of the beholder. When it comes to size, for an employer to be obligated to comply with FMLA, the employer must employ at least fifty (50) people for each working day during each of twenty (20) or more calendar workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year. If that doesn’t describe your business (or your employer), it is small enough not to have to provide FMLA leave, though it may have to provide other types of sick leave, either under its own sick time policy, state statute, or city ordinance (i.e. Minneapolis, St. Paul, and soon-to-be Duluth).

Not all employees qualify for unpaid leave.

Even if your small business crosses the 50-employee threshold, not all employees are entitled to FMLA leave. In order to qualify, an employee must:

  • Have worked for his/her/their employer for at least twelve (12) months;
  • Have worked for his/her/their employer for at least 1,250 hours over the past 12-month period; and
  • Work for a company that has at least 50 employees working within a 75-mile radius of the employee’s worksite.

These qualifications indicate that a new employee, a part-time employee, or an employee working at a remote location may not qualify for leave. These stipulations protect employers from being required to offer unpaid leave that would financially or operationally impair the business.

What can employers do?

If your employee does not qualify for FMLA but has nevertheless taken an unprotected leave, you are free to replace them in their position. (Caveat: be sure to consider the ADA, the MHRA, reasonable accommodation requirements, and city ordinances before making any decisions.)

If you are unsure how to handle an employee’s request for long-term, or intermittent leave to deal with a serious health condition, consider speaking with an experienced employment law attorney to discuss your specific situation.