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How Do I Request Leave Under The Family And Medical Leave Act (FMLA)?


Before requesting leave, it is advisable to follow the Eight Steps to Take Before Requesting Leave Under the FMLA.

Once you've completed the steps to prepare for the request, and you are ready to actually make the request, take the next steps. 

Step 1. Learn the procedure
  • Your employer may have a procedure in place for requesting leave under the FMLA. Good places to find this information are in your employee handbook or on your employer's web site. Look for "unpaid leave," and/or "FMLA leave."
  • If after doing your research, you are still unsure of your employer's requirements, contact your Human Resource or Personnel Department. This can often be done anonymously if you work for a large corporation.
  • Find out the name of the appropriate person to approach about requesting time off.
  • Preferably your meeting should be with the appropriate Human Resources person. Go as high up the chain of command in that department as is comfortable for you.
  • If your employer doesn't have a Human Resources person, speak with the highest-level person with whom you are comfortable, such as the President or owner.
  • If you believe the politics in your company require you to speak with your supervisor, keep in mind that the odds are that he or she is not knowledgeable about your legal rights and could violate your confidentiality protections. Once the cat is out of the bag, there is no turning back. A supervisor may also push you to disclose more than you have to.


  • Employees must provide 30 days' notice of need for an FMLA leave. If the need for leave is less than 30 days in advance, you must provide the employer with notice as soon as practicable which is interpreted to mean the same day you learn you will need the leave, or the next business day.
    • Employers have the option of requesting that you explain why it was not practicable to give the full 30 days notice.
    • If the need for leave is not foreseeable, employees must follow the employer's usual and customary notice and procedural requirements for requesting leave, unless there are circumstances which make not following the requirements reasonable. (The law refers to the reasons as "absent extenuating circumstances.")
  • Once an employer has a completed certification or other information sufficient to determine whether the leave an employee requests is FMLA leave, the employer has 5 business days to designate leave as FMLA leave. The employer must provide a written Rights and Responsibilities notice to each employee requesting FMLA leave that includes the specific expectations and obligations of the employee.  The notice must also include the consequences of not meeting those terms.

Step 2. Keep in mind that your request is a negotiation, not a demand

  • Particularly if your request is for something other than for a block of time, present your request in a friendly manner that permits you and your employer to come together cooperatively to address the concerns of both parties. For example, you might say all or some of the following: "Here's the problem I'm having. I have an idea that would be useful. If you have a more practical idea, that would be helpful. I'd appreciate any ideas you may have as well."
  • Don't start the conversation as adversaries or people in a power struggle. Demanding FMLA leave or threatening a lawsuit is likely to make your employer less willing to work with you.

Step 3. Request a face-to-face meeting. 

  • Since a discussion about time off under the FMLA should be friendly, it is generally preferable to start the request by meeting face-to-face with the appropriate human relations person.
Step 4. Prepare your request in writing prior to your meeting
  • Writing 
    • If you employer has an FMLA leave request form, prepare it in advance of your meeting. Otherwise, write a letter which describes the leave you want and take it with you to the meeting.
    • If you are disclosing your health condition to a supervisor instead of a Human Resources person, it is particularly important to put your request in writing so there is no question concerning why disclosure is being made.
  • Stick to the basics
    • Include the basic reasons you need time off. Do not get into too much detail. If the employer wants more information, you will be asked.
    • Do not assume that your employer knows what your health condition is or why you need the leave you are requesting. You may believe it is obvious to your employer. In fact, the employer may not know anything about your situation.
  • Stick to the basics.
    • Do not assume that your employer knows what your health condition is or why you need what you need. 
Step 5. Before the meeting, get ready for it.
  • What to discuss
    • The reason for the leave.
      • Disclose enough information that the employer understands the need for the leave. 
      • Be consistent with documentation you provide the employer - such as your request for the leave, and any medical documentation.
    • Leave start and end dates.
    • Your obligations during your leave.
    • That your job will be held for you.
    • Arrangements for maintaining health insurance.
    • Confirm what additional benefits.will be continued and who will pay for them.
    • Come to a mutual agreement about who else, if anyone, needs to be aware of your condition and/or your request for leave.
  • Be prepared in the event you reach a stalemate with your employer, or your employer wants to stop the discussions entirely.

    • If this happens, or even if the conversation does not go well, consider asking that the conversation be adjourned to another day so both of you can "sleep on it" and then meet again.  It's best not to have an all-out "knock down, drag out" confrontation.

  • Practice

    • If you are going to present your request in person, you may find it helpful to practice while looking in a mirror.  Concentrate on keeping eye contact. 

    • Keep repeating the points you want to make until you're comfortable with them and can say them in a friendly manner.  Actors on a stage are comfortable with what they do because they rehearse and rehearse and rehearse.

    • After you practice alone, role play with a friend, associate or a professional.  Ask the person to be the employer and put you through your paces.

Step 6. Be sure to discuss the basics during your meeting. 
  • Arrangements for maintaining your health insurance. 
  • Confirm what additional benefits may be continued and who will pay for them.
  • Ask what you can do to lessen the workflow disruption.
  • What, if anything, you can do to maximize chances that your meployer will hold your job for you instead of an "equivalent" one.
  • If you are not going to take the leave all at once, make the leave as predictable as possible. For example, schedule medical appointsments at the same time each week.
  • Come to a mutual agreement with your employer about who else, if anyone, needs to be aware of your condition and/or your request for leave.

NOTE:  Particularly if you are not going to take leave all at once, it is advisable to let co-workers know what is going on. To learn more, see: Work: Disclosing Your Health Condition

Step 7. After the meeting, get the agreement in writing.
  • Whatever you and your employer agree to, confirm it in writing.  It is the only way to assure that there is no question what was agreed to in the event that a dispute should arise between you and your employer
  • If you can't get a signed agreement, at least write the details of the agreement in your work diary or in a file soon after the meeting. Include everything that was agreed upon.
  • NOTE: In addition to the agreement (or evidence in a diary or file), keep a copy of:
    • Your letter or completed employer form requesting leave 
    • Your doctor's letter and any other correspondence regarding your condition.
Step 8. Obtain the necessary FMLA certification in case you are asked for it.

If you don't think you should negotiate for yourself, your local disease specific non-profit organization may have someone available to do the negotiation for you. If not, an attorney, social worker, or finance counselor could do it for you.

For more information, see:

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