If you have an autistic child, you could file for family leave to take care of them. However, you will not always get paid family leave, especially if you file under FMLA. So, that is something to think about if money is an issue.
FMLA for an Autistic Child: An Introduction
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does enable you to take an unpaid job-protected leave of up to 12 weeks from work to care for a child with autism. It also enables you to take care of children with other serious, documented health conditions, including chronic conditions. This provision of the law applies to a wide range of physical and mental illnesses, disabilities and impairments.
The goal of FMLA is to enhance work-life balance for employees while promoting the employers’ legitimate interests. That is why it provides a reasonable leave period without requiring employers to pay their employees during that time.
FMLA for an Autistic Child: Eligibility Requirements
The rules concerning FMLA for an autistic child tend to fall under the family and medical issues that qualify for inpatient care, continuing treatment, or as chronic conditions.
To qualify for FMLA leave for any reason, you must be eligible first. First, you must work for an employer that is covered under the Act. Usually, that means working for a private organization that has at least 50 employees. If your employer has fewer than 50 employees, investigate to determine if state medical and leave laws cover them.
Also, you must have been on the payroll of a covered employer for at least 12 months. Your months on the job need not be consecutive, which means your seasonal work does count. However, you should have worked at least 1,250 hours of employment at a work location in the United States or a U.S. territory within that 12-month period before taking time off.
In addition, your workplace should be within an area where your employer has 50 or more employees working within a 75-mile radius. If the number of co-workers within your locale is less than that, even if the employer as more than 50 employees across the country, you will not qualify for FMLA leave.
Different rules and regulations may apply for flight crew, school employees, and members of the military. For example, if you are a school employee, you may have different timing rules to coincide with terms or semesters.
Qualifying Reasons for FMLA Leave
Of course, not every child will make you eligible for FMLA leave. Regulations are in place to determine which children you can take care of when on leave.
Generally, you are allowed to take an FMLA for an autistic child to care for a biological child or one who was born to you or placed with you through adoption or foster care. Also, you can take care of step children or your legal wards. In addition, you can use the leave to take care of adults over 18 years old for whom you are legally responsible because they are incapable of taking care of themselves.
Certain other personal reasons are also acceptable, including:
- Need to care for a spouse or parent with a serious health condition
- Need to seek treatment for your own health problem
- Need to address common issues connected to a family member's active duty service with the U.S. military.
FMLA Coverage Expectations
The FMLA is a federal law that applies to all public agencies and educational institutions. And it is relatively extensive.
For private businesses with a minimum of 50 employees, it will cover them for at least 20 weeks of the calendar year. And these employers can provide those 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave each year to each qualifying employee. In addition, they must maintain group health insurance for any worker who held such a policy before taking time off.
Employee Rights and Responsibilities
If you qualify for FMLA leave, you have a right to be restored to your original job or to a job with equivalent pay and benefits when you return. However, you are responsible for giving your employer enough information to determine your eligibility.
You must also provide notice 30 days before taking time off, or as far in advance as possible. In addition, you may also be asked to document your child's health condition, and to schedule medical treatments so as to minimize workplace disruptions.
Autism Payment Alternatives
While FMLA offers unpaid leave, you can explore other alternatives that provide financial support while you care of a child with autism. Below are some of them.
- Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): An eligible child under 22 years can qualify for this benefit you are the parent and you qualify for Social Security disability or retirement benefits.
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI): If your child has autism that severely limits his or her activities and makes them disabled, which has lasted at least one year, they may qualify for SSI benefits until they are 18 years. However, your income will determine whether your child qualifies for these benefits.
- Medicaid Waiver Program: The Waiver Program enables a child with autism with limited resources to stay home and remain part of their family and community, thus reducing your need for leave. In some states, it may be referred to as autism waiver program. Families receive support, such as in-home services and education, worth thousands of dollars. However, the total monetary support depends on the child’s assessed needs and your location.
Having a child with autism is not the end of the world. You could still keep on working while providing care for them when the need arises. You just have to align yourself with the right program.
- Dol.Gov: Family and Medical Leave (FMLA)
- Lexology: An FMLA cautionary tale for employers.
- Dol.Gov: The Employee’s Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act
- Dol.Gov: Fact Sheet #28K: "Son or Daughter" 18 years of age or older under the Family and Medical Leave Act
- AutismSpeaks.Org: Financial Assistance Resources
- Act-Today.Org: How a Child Can Qualify for Social Security Benefits with Autism
- HealthAffairs.Org: Medicaid Waivers Targeting Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder Reduce The Need For Parents To Stop Working
Amy Handlin has been writing about government, business and politics since 1999. She is the author of "Be Your Own Lobbyist" and "Government Grief: How to Help Your Small Business Survive Mindless Regulation, Political Corruption and Red Tape." She is also a state legislator and associate professor. Handlin graduated from Harvard and holds advanced degrees in marketing from Columbia and New York University.