No person should have to choose between keeping their job and taking care of themselves or their family. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was enacted for this very reason—to promote work-life balance and give workers the ability to meet their demands at work and at home.
The FMLA is a federal law that entitles employees to take reasonable unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons. While on FMLA leave, the employee’s job is in protected status.
Are you covered under FMLA?
The FMLA entitles you to take leave only for these qualifying reasons:
- Treatment of their own serious health condition;
- Pregnancy, birth, and caring for a newborn child;
- Adopting or fostering a child;
- Caring for a family member with a serious health condition; and
- Situations arising from a family member’s deployment or caring for a servicemember with a serious injury or illness.
There are other requirements that you (as the employee) must meet to be eligible for FMLA leave. You must have been employed for at least 12 months and have worked at least 1,250 hours in the year prior to the start date of the intended leave. Also, you must generally comply with your employer’s policies for requesting leave and provide notice, typically 30 days in advance of when the leave is needed. However, in some circumstances where advance notice is not possible or the need for leave is unexpected, you may provide notice as soon as practicable. Your employer must then provide notice regarding your eligibility for FMLA leave and may require documentation in support of the request for leave.
The FMLA applies to all public agencies, private sector employers, and all public and private elementary and secondary schools. However, your employer must have at least 50 employees located within 75 miles of your worksite.
So, you’re eligible… now what?
If you are eligible for FMLA leave, you may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period or up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave if you are caring for a family member with an illness or injury related to military service. The leave can be taken all at once or can be split up into shorter periods of intermittent leave. Your employer may temporarily transfer you to an alternative position to accommodate you if you take intermittent leave but must provide the same pay and benefits that you had in your prior position. When you no longer need the intermittent leave, your employer must restore you to the same or equivalent job as the one that you had prior to when the leave started.
While on FMLA leave, your employer may periodically inquire on your return to work status. Furthermore, your employer is required to continue group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if you had not taken leave, but you must also continue to pay whatever share of the premiums that you paid prior to the FMLA leave.
When you return from FMLA leave, your employer must restore you to your original job or to an equivalent job function with equivalent pay and benefits.
What could go wrong?
If you meet the requirements for FMLA leave, your employer may not interfere with those rights. That means your employer cannot deny legitimate FMLA leave requests nor can they retaliate against you for exercising these protected rights. If your employer violates the mandates of the FMLA, you have two years to file a lawsuit—or three years if you can prove your employer’s conduct was willful.
If your employer takes any of the following adverse actions against you, then you have a viable FMLA claim:
- Discourages you or otherwise interferes with your right to FMLA leave;
- Manipulates your work hours, the number of employees at the worksite, or other factors to evade employee eligibility under the FMLA;
- Fires, demotes, suspends, or disciplines you for exercising your FMLA rights; or
- Delays reinstating you to your former job or an equivalent job after your return from FMLA leave.
There are other scenarios that would constitute a violation of the FMLA. If you believe that your employer has infringed upon those rights, please do not hesitate to reach out to us for a consultation. We will be happy to guide you—whether you are in the middle of the FMLA process or if you have been terminated from your position because you requested FMLA leave. We are here for you.
Because your work matters.