As an employer operating in Colorado and possibly other states, it’s important that you comply with both federal and state laws regarding employee rights. Some of the more confusing rights that workers may improperly assert include the right to take unpaid leave.

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), workers have the right to take unpaid leave in certain circumstances. Having a staff member leave for a protracted period can cost your business money by reducing the efficiency of your staff or requiring you to hire and train a temporary replacement.

Knowing when you have to accommodate these requests for unpaid leave and how long workers can remain on leave will help you avoid employee claims and employment law complications in the future due to the denial of a valid request.

Only certain employers and employees are eligible under the FMLA

Not every company has to accommodate an employee request for unpaid leave under the FMLA. In general, the company must have had at least 50 employees for the last 20 workweeks. Additionally, not every worker on your staff qualifies for FMLA leave. The person requesting leave must have worked with your company at least 1,250 hours in the last 12 months.

What circumstances allow for FMLA leave?

As the name implies, the primary reasons for leave requested under the FMLA relate to medical issues or family needs. A person can request time off to care for an immediate family member, including a spouse, parent or child. FMLA leave is also available after the adoption, birth or foster placement of a child with a family.

People can also request FMLA leave for themselves when they require medical care. Most people qualify for 12 weeks of FMLA leave, although those taking leave to provide care for a family member who was a military service member can request as much as 26 weeks.

Employers also need to be aware that workers in Colorado have special protections under state law that allocate an additional 40 hours of unpaid leave after someone already reached the maximum leave allowable under the federal act.