Woman on beach reading a book

Nothing says summer fun like beach days, cornhole games, campfires, s’mores, and reading a steamy blog about the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Pull up an Adirondack chair, kick off your flipflops and settle in for mini-chapter one. Seriously though, a couple weeks ago we did an FMLA Deep Dive webinar that resulted in a lot of questions from the basics through the very complex. It reminded FMLA veterans that we can’t forget to reinforce it all. This is our first in a series of FMLA Summer School episodes, which came directly from your questions. Thank you.

Today’s lesson: 12 Weeks!

Seems like such a simple term, but it sure does get complicated quickly.

Question: Could you clarify how to count the 12 weeks? Should it be since the first day of leave or per calendar year?

Answer: Many people will agree that one of the most annoying things about me and my colleagues is that our answers almost always start with, ‘It depends.’ This is no exception. This question is complicated because it really depends on the employer’s calendar method. Let’s review each of the 4 methods.

  • CALENDAR: Employers who count based on January to December of each year provide employees with a fresh 12 weeks of available leave as of January 1 of each year. This is regardless of whether employees used all (or any) of their time or not in the prior year. If an employee’s first absence of the year isn’t until December 28, they will get to use four days that calendar year. On January 1, they will then have a fresh new 12 weeks available to them, but the 11+ weeks they didn’t use in the prior year are gone – unused entitlement does not carry over to the following year. On the other hand, if the employee used all 12 weeks of FMLA during October, November, and December, they would still get a new bucket of 12 weeks available on January 1.
  • FIXED: Think of this one just like ‘Calendar,’ but the employer defines that magical line in the beach sand. Fiscal year is the most popular, but it could be any year-long period, such as November 1, 2021, through October 31, 2022.
  • ROLLING FORWARD: This 12-month period is employee specific, so it is not the same for all employees and can be very difficult to understand, track, and explain. The very first approved absence an employee takes starts their 12-month window to use their available 12 weeks. Therefore, if an employee starts an approved FMLA absence on March 15, they have until March 14 of the following year to take their 12 weeks of leave. NOTE: That March 15 is a moving target, as the next 12-month period will be determined by their first approved date of absence after the March 14 period ends their 12 months.
    • Example:
      • March 15, 2021: Sarah’s first approved FMLA absence
      • March 14, 2022: End of Sarah’s one-year period to use 12 weeks
      • July 22, 2022: Sarah’s next approved FMLA absence
      • July 21, 2023: End of Sarah’s next one-year period to use 12 weeks
    • Like with Calendar method, employees won’t bank unused time, but essentially on the day after the end of the 12-month period, their available time is fully restored.
  • ROLLING BACKWARD: This method is the most difficult to track, but generally the most advantageous to employers, and therefore also the most common. Under this method, for each day–or even hour– of leave that an employee uses, the employer looks backward one year to determine how much leave the employee has already used. The employee’s available leave equals 12 weeks minus any leave they already used in the previous one year.
    • Example:
      • March 15, 2021: Sarah’s first approved FMLA absence of 6 weeks. Because she’s never used FMLA leave, they know she has available time.
      • July 8, 2021: Sarah requests 4 weeks of FMLA time. The employer looks back at the window of July 9, 2020, to July 8, 2021, to determine the total number of weeks used. They see she used 6 weeks in March of 2021, so she has 6 weeks available.
      • January 21, 2022: Sarah requests another 4 weeks for FMLA time. Again, the employer looks back at the one-year window leading up to the start of the leave. Between January 22, 2021, and January 21, 2022, Sarah used 10 weeks. Therefore, she only has 2 weeks left. The first two weeks she requested can be approved, but the second two weeks would not be job protected under the FMLA.
      • March 15, 2022: Sarah will start to regain 6 weeks of time, as it is one year after her first absence.
      • July 8, 2022: Sarah will start to regain 4 more weeks of time.
      • January 21, 2023: Sarah will start to regain 2 more weeks of time. Although her absence may have been the full 4 weeks requested, only two of them were designated under the FMLA.

The DOL has done a great job of creating a visual on explaining the Rolling Back situation. Here is a very handy tool. Scroll down to page 51. FMLA Employers Guide

Two additional quick Q&A:

  1. Can you provide additional clarification regarding gaining back FMLA hours while still absent? Employees do not have to be actively at work to regain time. If they just so happen to be out on a leave of absence on the day they would have normally regained time, then that available time should still be restored. They only need to be an active employee (not terminated, laid off, etc.).
  2. How can an employer change to a rolling calendar year if the rules of the FMLA are set by the federal government? Also found on page 51 of the link provided above, the feds just outlined the four options. It is up to the employers to choose, so long as they are consistent across all employees.

If you really want to geek out, check out section 825.200(b) through (h). Electronic Code of Federal Regulations

There will be more to come on 12 weeks and many other topics. Until then, pack your sunscreen, a towel, and some snacks. Stay tuned for our next chapter!

What ReedGroup Is Doing

ReedGroup continuously tracks and analyzes current and pending leave and accommodation legislation to determine potential impacts to our customers. In addition, ReedGroup monitors guidance from agencies such as the Department of Labor and EEOC and incorporates that guidance into our administration when appropriate.

If you’re looking for assistance managing leave of absence or accommodations or to ensure compliance across your organization, ReedGroup has solutions for you. Review our offerings here.


Information provided on this blog is intended for general educational use. It is not intended to provide legal advice. ReedGroup does not provide legal services. Consult an attorney for legal advice on this or any other topic. 

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