Does the 12-Week Period of Leave Under FMLA Renew Every Year?

The United States lags behind much of the developed world when it comes to letting employees take leave from work for personal illness or family emergencies. Many countries require some paid leave when personal health or family emergencies require it.

Texas has no statute in this regard. Several federal laws contain provisions for such breaks. Chief among them is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which allows individuals to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave within a 12-month period. It's that last stipulation that can create a lot of confusion. And, of course, where confusion exists, legal disputes often result. So, here we will try to provide some clarity.

You've Had A Rough Year

Imagine the following scenario. Over the course of a single year, your aging parent comes down with pneumonia in the spring and requires significant care for several weeks. A couple of months later, your child suffers serious injuries that require more time off. As the year closes out, your doctor recommends surgery for your bad back which will leave you sidelined for six weeks. You've already used up eight of your 12 unpaid FMLA weeks, so you think you will put off surgery until January. A new 12-week cycle renews then, right? Not necessarily.

Employment vacation and paid sick leave packages typically do refresh with each new year. But the measure of FMLA time can vary. As the U.S. Department of Labor notes, the different ways employers can gauge the effective 12-month period can include:

  • The regular January to December calendar year
  • An alternate fixed 12-month period, such as a fiscal year or one beginning on the anniversary of your employment
  • Measuring forward, under which your next period of 12-week eligibility would start one year from the date you of your first FMLA leave
  • Looking backward from the date you intend your leave to start to see if you are eligible for the time off being requested

Obviously, to get the full measure of benefit you may need under FMLA, you need to understand what gauge your employer uses before you make your request. Regardless of what system is used, however, when you request and receive approval for leave for any of the reasons the law allows, you also are assured the right to return to your same job or one that is nearly equivalent at the end of your leave period.