How to take family leave from work

Sometimes it’s necessary. Here are some strategies for making it happen.

How to take family leave from work

Take these steps to prep for a family leave.

Do you have a gap on your resume? Don’t worry—there’s one on most, it turns out. Three in five Americans have been unemployed or had a gap in their career, according to a recent Monster survey. Among the top reasons for taking time off were under the FMLA, meaning the Family and Medical Leave Act, which includes parental leave and needing to take care of a sick family member. 

FMLA laws allow eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons without losing group health insurance coverage, just as if the employee were still working regular hours.

So what qualifies for FLMA? Eligible employees are entitled to:

  • 12 workweeks of leave in a 12-month period for:
    • the birth of a child and to care for the newborn child within one year of birth;
    • the placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care and to care for the newly placed child within one year of placement;
    • to care for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition;
    • a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job;
    • any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent is a covered military member on “covered active duty;” or
  • 26 workweeks of leave during a single 12-month period to care for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness if the eligible employee is the service member’s spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin (military caregiver leave)

Leave benefits are becoming more common in general, and some states are stepping up and making paid leave a mandatory benefit offering. In New York State, for instance, starting in 2019, if you’ve worked for a private employer for long enough, you may be eligible for up to 10 weeks while receiving 55% of your average weekly wage, with full job protection.

Elsewhere, companies offer paid leave benefits because it’s the smart thing to do. “Leave programs are a way for employers to be competitive and to attract talent,” says Courtney Blanchard, an employment attorney at Nilan Johnson Lewis in Minneapolis. “So, we’re seeing employers offering expanded leave programs.”

Part of the push is because the labor market is getting tighter, but “there’s also the reality that there are some states and cities that are starting to pass mandatory leave laws,” Blanchard says. “It’s a combination of staying ahead of the curve and providing an attractive benefit for your workforce.”

“I think the increase in family leave has to do with workers being more informed about benefits,” says Matthew Burr, a human resources consultant in Elmira, New York. “The younger workforce is aware of benefits and perks and encouraged to use these.”

Additionally, younger workers may be drawn to jobs that offer more flexibility. “Workers ages 18 to 34 are looking for positions providing flexible time-off benefits,” according to Blanchard.

Regardless of your age, if you need to take some time off for family issues, use these three tips to prepare for an easier transition.

Know what your company offers beyond FLMA laws

While federally mandated family and medical leave is unpaid, your company might offer a paid leave in certain circumstances. Most people (60%) who reported taking family leave in the past two years received at least partial pay while they were out of work, according to the Pew Research Center.

Learn what your company's policy is by checking out the employee manual or on the company’s internal benefits site. “If the policies are not clear to you, reach out to someone in HR and ask them for a couple of minutes on the phone or in person so they can explain how it works,” says Vicki Salemi, Monster career expert.

If your company or state doesn’t offer any sort of paid leave, you may have to take time off without salary. FMLA laws state that eligible employees receive up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave each year.

Know what you need

This shouldn’t be a conversation you have on the fly. Think about specifically what you’re going to say and what you’re asking for. “Ask yourself, ‘How much time do I need?’” Salemi says. “Know what the policy is and know what you think you need.”

It’s also helpful to have some idea of how your work would be covered while you’re out—and to have this conversation as early as you can. But you don’t have to go into detail about why you need to take leave. Depending on your relationship with your boss, divulge only as much information as you feel you need to. “You can just say, ‘I need to take some time off for a family situation,’” Salemi says. “Practice ahead of time.”

Time it right

Depending on the situation, you may be dealing with something that’s upsetting. If you have the time, gather yourself before you dive into it with your boss.  

“It’s best to come to your boss when you’re not emotional about it,” says Nancy Halpern, an executive coach with KNH Associates in New York City. This is especially true if this is a newer boss, you haven’t been at the job long, or the company is under financial pressure.

“There are all these other factors that heighten the anxiety about asking, so I wouldn’t increase your own anxiety by meeting at a time when you feel more vulnerable and frightened,” Halpern says.

Stay informed

Understanding how to take family leave is one of the more anxiety-inducing lessons to learn. It can be tricky when your personal life collides with your job. Knowing exactly how to handle that type of situation often requires expert advice. Could you use some help? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you can sign up to have career advice, job search tips, and workplace trends sent directly to your inbox. Whether you're taking time off or trying to get a raise, we have the info to help you stay ahead of the curve.

Legal Disclaimer: None of the information provided herein constitutes legal advice on behalf of Monster.