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Debunking the Myth:
is FMLA Paid Leave?

The U.S. Department of Labor defines the FMLA as “unpaid, job-protected leave,” and the purpose of the FMLA, specifically, is to protect the benefits and jobs of employees who are in circumstances where time off from work is a necessity. Certain medical conditions involving the employees themselves or their family members, qualify as reasons for a necessary leave of absence. The FMLA does not necessarily protect the pay of the employee during this leave of absence, but employees can be paid during their FMLA absences in certain circumstances.

Employees are given the option to choose if they want to take accrued paid leave to cover some or all of the FMLA leave that is taken. Sometimes, however, employers will require their employees to use the substitution of their accrued paid vacation or personal leave for any of the situations covered by the FMLA. Many employers choose to do this to minimize the time their employees spend away from the job.

FMLA guidelines do state that accrued vacation or personal days may be used at any time by employees during their FMLA leave of absence, but employers may not restrict how this time is used. Employers are permitted to create their own particular policies about how their employees should use such paid time off simultaneously with FMLA leave, but not to limit the employees. If employees wish to use accrued paid time off with FMLA leave, their health benefits and job are still protected and restored by the FMLA.

Many states, cities and local governments have enacted laws that give employees greater leave rights than provided under the FMLA. State and local laws may differ from the federal FMLA.

They may, for example:

  • Require paid leave instead of unpaid leave
  • Apply to smaller employers
  • Provide longer leave periods
  • Provide leave for circumstances beyond the scope of the FMLA (such as parental leave for school activities, leave for organ donations, etc.).

If a state and federal law differ or conflict, employers must follow the provisions that are the most generous to the employee.