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Updates to FMLA: What to know about taking sick leave during the pandemic

The COVID vaccine rollout has picked up steam, but many Americans are still at-risk. With that in mind, recent updates to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) aim to help workers affected by COVID. 

What is the FMLA?

The Family and Medical Leave Act allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks off during 12 months for family or medical reasons. While the time off is unpaid, workers still get the same health insurance coverage through their employer as they did before their leave. 

The FMLA also prevents employers from firing workers who take leave. That is, provided you’ve worked for your company for at least 12 months and racked up at least 1,250 hours of work before taking leave.

A few reasons you might qualify for FMLA include:

  • The birth or adoption of a child
  • A serious health condition that makes you unable to do essential job functions
  • A need to care for a family member who has a severe health condition

The FMLA applies to private companies with at least 50 workers, schools, and government agencies. 

Changes to the FMLA  

While the FMLA is mostly unchanged, there are some short-term updates to help those affected by COVID.

Until recently, many businesses were required to give COVID-affected workers up to 80 hours (two weeks) of paid sick leave. 

Now, businesses have to opt in. Companies that decide to offer employees paid sick leave will get tax credits for up to $12,000 of leave time. This benefit applies to leave taken from April 1 through September 30, 2021. 

Under the new FMLA guidelines in the American Rescue Plan Act, you may be able to take paid time off for any of the following reasons:

  • You’re feeling COVID symptoms and still waiting for your diagnosis
  • Your doctor advised you to self-quarantine
  • You’re caring for someone affected by COVID or your child’s school or daycare closed due to COVID
  • To get the COVID vaccine
  • You’re feeling side effects from the COVID vaccine

Whether or not you can take paid leave will depend on your employer. Be sure to check with your employer if you need to take time off for any reason. 

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