The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that allows certain eligible employees to take up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave in any 12-month period for one or more qualifying events. You are an eligible employee if your employer regularly employs 50 or more people, you have been employed by that employer for at least twelve months, and you have worked at least 1250 hours during the twelve months immediately preceding your request for leave.
The reasons you may take FMLA leave are for the birth of a child; the placement (adoption) of a child; a serious health condition; or the serious health condition of your spouse, your child, or your parent. A “serious health condition” is a condition for which you are receiving inpatient care (and any period of incapacity following such inpatient care) or for which you are receiving continuing care by a doctor or other health care provider. Your “spouse” is your husband or wife as recognized under state law whether by a ceremonial or common law union. Your “child” includes any biological child, adopted child, foster child, stepchild or legal ward. Likewise, your “parent” would include your biological, adoptive, step or foster parent or any individual who had parental responsibility for you when you were a child.
In order to take leave under the FMLA, you must give your employer at least thirty (30) days advance notice of your intention to take leave if possible. The exception is where the need for the leave is not foreseeable or arises from a medical emergency. In such cases, you must give your employer notice of the situation as soon as possible. In addition, while leave under the FMLA is unpaid, it may often be taken in combination with your employer’s existing paid leave policy, if any. Once you notify your employer of your need for leave, your employer will provide you with FMLA paperwork which tells you how the leave time will be counted, whether and how you can use paid leave time in combination with the FMLA, and whether you will be required to obtain written certification of the need for leave from your health care provider.
It is illegal for your employer to deny or interfere with your right to take leave under the FMLA. Likewise, it is also illegal for your employer to retaliate against you for having taken leave once you return to work. If this happens to you, you may bring a lawsuit against your employer to recover any lost wages, benefits, or other monetary losses, together with interest on that amount. You may also be awarded liquidated damages on your lost wages as well as appropriate injunctive relief in the form of employment, reinstatement, or promotion. The law further provides that if you win the case, you may also be awarded your reasonable attorney’s fees and the costs of the action.
Finally, you should be aware that in 2008 the FMLA was amended to provide for leave protection to certain family members of military service members. This leave can be extended up to 26 weeks where the employee is caring for a service member with a serious injury or illness.
As you can see, the FMLA can be very important to you in times of stress caused by illness or family transitions. It allows you to take time off to deal with difficult situations without fear of losing your job. However, the FMLA is a very technical law with many parts. If you are in a situation where you need leave or have been mistreated because you took leave, please call us with any questions or concerns. We are always here for you.
Danny R. Smith, Attorney