Dear Matt: I've heard that family leave can be used for family events or situations other than having a baby. Can you explain this or talk about this law? I have elderly parents who are going to need more attention than I can give working 40 hours per week, so I need to cut back my schedule for a while, but I don't want to quit my job.

Matt: FMLA, also known as the Family Medical Leave Act, is a piece of federal legislation that was passed in 1993. It allows you 12 weeks, either consecutive or intermittent, of unpaid leave to address medical concerns involving yourself or specified loved ones. Upon completion of the leave you are eligible to return to your same position or one that is equivalent.

Essentially, FMLA provides you with job protection for the duration of your leave based on certain qualifications, which are outlined at www.dol.gov/esa/whd/fmla. Among the reasons people can use FMLA is to care for an immediate family member - including parents - with a serious health condition.

The most important step is to find out if you qualify, and then put together a plan of action of how you could help the company deal with your absence before approaching your manager.

Some ideas include:

  • Figuring out a way to split your job duties with co-workers while you are gone.
  • Setting up a plan to get the most important responsibilities of your job done while you are in the office.
  • Hiring a temporary worker, part-time workers or additional help to make up for when you are not at work (it may not be in the budget or the company may not be willing to this, but it's worth checking).
  • Setting a schedule to come in certain days or work certain hours so people know when you will be available.

It is important to be clear about when you can and can't be available if you are still working part-time. When away from work your top priority is taking care of your parents, and you do not want to be worrying about work when you are legally off from your job. Set clear hours and times of when you will be working and stick to it.


Matt Krumrie has written and specialized in career advice for 10 years. He lives and works in the Twin Cities. Matt answers readers' questions every week; e-mail him at askmatt@startribune.com.