Coping with Pregnancy Loss: Facts About the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

There are certain words that no one wants to hear during pregnancy, but are always in the back of an expectant mother’s mind. At the top of the list? Miscarriage. Every mama knows the deep-seated fear that accompanies that word. 

In the midst of the grief and pain that follows pregnancy loss, going back to work can become both an emotional and physical impossibility, but taking time off for medical reasons doesn’t look the same for everyone. 

So what are your options when your greatest fear is realized? What are your rights? Are you entitled to time off as you recover physically and emotionally? We did the research on the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to answer these questions and more, so that you can go into these conversations with the information necessary to get the time you need to heal, without the fear of losing your job:

What is The Family & Medical Leave Act?

According to the Department of Labor, “The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides certain employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year. It also requires that their group health benefits be maintained during the leave.

FMLA is designed to help employees balance their work and family responsibilities by allowing them to take reasonable unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons. It also seeks to accommodate the legitimate interests of employers and promote equal employment opportunities for men and women.

Qualifying employers must provide an eligible employee with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year for any of the following reasons:

  • For the birth and care of the newborn child of an employee;
  • For placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care;
  • To care for an immediate family member (i.e., spouse, child, or parent) with a serious health condition; or
  • To take medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition.

Do You Qualify?

You may qualify for FMLA if: 

  • You work for any public agency or school for at least 12 months
  • Have worked at least 12 months for a company that employs at least 50 people [AND have worked at least 1,250 hours in the previous 12 months] 

The FMLA covers leave for several reasons, including medical leave for a “serious health condition.” Conditions that would qualify include:

  • Conditions requiring an overnight stay in a hospital or other facility
  • Conditions that incapacitate you (i.e. you are unable to work) for more than three consecutive days and require ongoing medical treatment (either multiple appointments with a health care provider, or a single appointment and follow-up care such as prescription medication)
  • Chronic conditions that cause occasional periods when you are incapacitated and require treatment by a health care provider at least twice a year
  • Pregnancy (including prenatal medical appointments, incapacity due to morning sickness, and medically required bed rest)

Miscarriage or stillbirth can fall under more than one of these categories, depending on the specifics of the situation. If you require hospitalization or follow-up care, you are entitled to FMLA leave. If you require medication that makes it difficult for you to work, you are also entitled to paid time off, and if your provider is concerned enough about your mental health to prescribe followup medication or mental healthcare, you should also qualify. Speak with your medical provider to make sure you have a treatment plan that is going to allow you to heal from the trauma of miscarriage.

How to To Approach Your Employer

Speaking to your employer about taking medical leave is a multi-step process, but the first step is fairly simple. You do not have to disclose the specific reasons for your request, but you will need to let your employer know that you have been seen by a medical provider, and are going to require time off for medical reasons. If you can obtain a doctor’s note to give to your employer, that would be helpful at this point, to support your claim.

Your employer will have five business days to respond to your request. If your employer denies your request, you are able to reapply later on. If they approve your request, they may require certification. Upon approval, the employer will provide you with information regarding FMLA and your rights and responsibilities, and they must request certification at this time if that is something they need from you. If they request certification, you will have 15 business days to provide it to them. 

The certification will need to include:

  • Contact information for your doctor or health care provider
  • Date information for when the serious health condition began
  • How long the condition is expected to last, and how much leave will be required
  • Appropriate medical facts about the condition, such as information on symptoms, hospitalization, doctors visits, and referrals for treatment
  • Whether your leave will be continuous or intermittent. (If you need to take leave a little bit at a time, the certification should include an estimate of how much time you will need for each absence, how often you will be absent, and information establishing the medical necessity for taking such intermittent leave.)

Your employer may also require you to get a second opinion from another healthcare provider to verify your condition. If the second opinion differs from the original opinion, you may be asked to get a third opinion.

Returning to Work

When you’re ready to return to work, your employer is required to return you to the same position, or a position that is as similar as possible to your original job. The position must:

  • Involve the same or very similar duties, responsibilities, and status
  • Require the same general level of skill, effort, responsibility and authority
  • Offer the same pay
  • Offer identical benefits (such as life insurance, health insurance, disability insurance, sick leave, vacation, educational benefits, pensions, etc.)
  • Offer the same general schedule and be at the same (or as close as possible) location

If you have any issues with the way your company handles your FMLA request, your first step is to speak with your human resources department to ensure that everything is handled fairly and according to the law. If you have concerns about how your employer is handling your request, you may want to consult an employment attorney to be sure your rights are being represented properly.  The last thing a grieving mama needs is to work through paperwork, but if you follow these simple steps, you can obtain the time off that you need to heal from the trauma of loss.

For more information on the Family & Medical Leave Act, check out this helpful FMLA Employee Guide.

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