Are You a ‘Covered Employer’ Under the FMLA?

FMLA only applies to "covered employers." Learn how to determine if your business is a covered employer.

Last Updated on January 16, 2024 by G. T. HR

What is the Family and Medical Leave Act?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law providing eligible employees of covered employers with unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons. In general, eligible employees may take up to 12 weeks of leave each year for FMLA-qualifying reasons, including for treatment of a serious health condition.

It’s important to note FMLA obligations don’t kick in unless an employer qualifies as a “covered employer” under the statute.

A private sector employer is covered by FMLA if it employs at least 50 employees in at least 20 workweeks in the current or previous calendar year.

How Do You Determine if an Employer Is A “Covered Employer” Under the FMLA?

Sometimes, determining whether an employer is covered can get a little tricky. The questions abound: How many employees must be retained? For how long? What if we straddle the minimum number over the course of time? What about part-time employees? Those on leave? And the list goes on.

Let’s take a closer look at which employers are covered by FMLA, and which are not. After all, if it turns out you are not covered in the first place, it can save you a lot of unnecessary legwork.

The Covered Employer Basics: The 50/20 Rule

Let’s begin with the basic rule for private-sector employers.

A private sector employer is covered by FMLA—meaning it must comply with applicable FMLA requirements—if it employs at least 50 employees in at least 20 workweeks in the current or previous calendar year.

Not a fiscal year. Not a rolling year (which can come into play when determining the period during which eligible employees can take FMLA leave). To determine whether an employer is covered, it’s a calendar year that applies.

Those 20 weeks do not have to be consecutive. Instead, the question is whether the employer had at least 50 employees in any 20 workweeks in the current or prior calendar year.

Another important note: If an employee works for any part of a workweek, they are considered to be employed for each working day of the calendar workweek for purposes of determining coverage under the FMLA.

Who Gets Counted as an ‘Employee’?

To get an accurate count, employers need to know which people are “employees” and which are not.

Here is a quick list of employees who must be counted, courtesy of the Department of Labor:

  • Any employee who works in the U.S. (or in any one of its territories or possessions)
  • Any employee whose name is on payroll records (it doesn’t matter whether compensation was paid)
  • An employee on leave (as long as you expect them to return)
  • Employees of foreign firms operating in the U.S., and
  • Employees who are part-time, temporary and seasonal (as well as full-time employees).

People Who Are Not Counted Under FMLA

Some individuals do not need to be counted for purposes of determining whether the 50-employee threshold has been met. They include:

  • Former employees
  • Unpaid volunteers
  • Employees of U.S. firms who are stationed at worksites outside the U.S., and
  • Employees of foreign firms who are working outside the U.S.

Once It’s Met, It’s Met

Let’s say an employer has a busy season that runs from the beginning of May through the end of September, during which it employs more than 50 people. When things slow down, the number of employees drops below 50 and remains there until June of the next year. At that time, an employee asks for FMLA leave.

Must the employer entertain the request, even though it has not had 50 or more employees since the previous September?


In this example, the employer met the 50/20 threshold in the prior year. Therefore, it’s a covered employer in the following year.

Remember: If there were 50 or more employees for 20 weeks of the current or prior calendar year, the employer is a covered employer under the statute.

Integrated Employers

What happens when separate businesses retain fewer than 50 employees each but operate under a single corporate entity or share common management? Are those businesses always excluded from FMLA coverage?

That’s a hard no, the DOL advises.

First, a corporation is a single employer under FMLA, and all of its employees – at all locations – are counted for purposes of determining whether FMLA applies. In addition, separate businesses may all be parts of a single employer if they qualify for what is known as an “integrated employer.”

In determining whether an employer is an integrated employer, relevant factors include:

  • Whether there is common management
  • The interrelation between operations
  • Whether there is centralized control of labor operations, and
  • The degree of financial control or common ownership.

Joint Employers

What happens when two businesses share control over an employee’s work? Who’s the employer for FMLA purposes?

In this situation, both employers must count the employee for FMLA purposes – even if only one of them has the employee on its payroll.

Successor Employers

Finally, an employer may need to comply with FMLA if it takes over a covered employer.

Factors apply to determine whether any particular employer is in fact a successor. Ask yourself: to what extent did the new employer step into the shoes of the prior one?

Relevant factors to consider in making the determination include whether the new employer:

  • Continues with the same business operations and provides similar products or services
  • Provides similar working conditions and jobs
  • Employs the same workforce and uses the same supervisory structure, and
  • Uses the same location and similar equipment/production methods.

How Should I Train Managers on FMLA Compliance?

Management Training Challenges

Despite employers’ best efforts, training managers and supervisors can be challenging due to limited time, high turnover, and lack of support from upper management. It can be further complicated by the fact that employees often do not mention FMLA in their leave requests. Additionally, it may be difficult to determine whether some employees’ leave requests are covered under FMLA.

The Importance of FMLA Training for Managers

Proper and thorough training allows managers and supervisors to recognize and appropriately respond to FMLA-qualifying leave requests. Despite the time and resources required to train managers and supervisors on FMLA compliance, organizations can cut costs in the long run by prioritizing these efforts.

Resources for FMLA Training

Employers can use these government resources to train managers and supervisors: 

Read more about training managers for FMLA.

Speak With an HR Expert About Your FMLA Concerns

It is important that HR Professionals stay compliant with federal and state leave regulations. To learn more about HR support for your company and current HR topics, contact us today at 1-855-538-6947 ext.108 or email