The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) helps your employees feel more secure about their job when they need to take care of their family members. While commonly associated with parental leave, there are other times when your employees might need to leave work to care for their family.

There are limits to the amount of protected leave an employee can take, but defining the 12 months for taking leave is up to you, as an employer.

Here’s what you should consider when it comes time to define your company’s FMLA period.

Clear communication aids compliance

Employees cannot follow your rules when they do not know what they are. When your employees are looking for more information about their leave, they will look at the policies you established.

Your employee handbook should include a clear definition of the 12-month FLMA period, such as:

  • Calendar. FMLA leave is calculated from January first through December thirty-first.
  • Fixed. The employee has 12 weeks to use during a predetermined 12-month period (such as the anniversary of hire).
  • Rolling forward. The 12-month period begins the first time the employee uses FMLA leave.
  • Rolling backward. When an employee wants to take FMLA leave, you will look at the previous 12 months to see how much of the 12 weeks are remaining for the employee to use.

If your employees know and understand your policy for their FMLA leave period, they are more likely to follow it.

The court could pick for you

When you do not choose a duration for FMLA leave for your employees, there is room for conflict.

When a court has to rule on whether there was leave available for the employee’s FMLA leave and you did not define the period, typically, they will choose the period calculation that is most beneficial for the employee.

It is essential to take the time to define your FMLA period both so that your employees understand your expectations and so that you are prepared if there is a disagreement.