Employee rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act

The Family and Medical Leave act is a federal law that protects employees who must take time off work to address a serious health problem, to care for a newborn child or to care for a sick or ailing family member. During this leave, employees can retain their jobs and maintain their eligibility for group health insurance benefits. However, many employees fail to take advantage of these protections because they are unaware of their rights under the law.

It is important for every employee to take time to educate themselves about their rights under the FMLA.

Who is protected?

The FMLA applies to public and private employers that employ 50 or employees. It also applies to all public and private elementary schools and all public agencies, regardless of how many employees work there.

It does take some time for FMLA protections to kick in. Employees are not eligible for FMLA leave until they have been employed for at least 12 months. These 12 months do not have to be consecutive.

In addition, employees must have worked at least 1,250 hours in the 12 months preceding the requested leave. In many cases, time spent in military service can be counted against the 1,250 hour requirement.

When is leave available?

The FMLA allows qualifying employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in five situations:

  • After the birth of the employee's newborn child
  • After the placement of an adopted or foster child in the employee's home
  • To care for a spouse, child or parent with a serious health condition
  • When the employee is unable to work because of his or her own serious health condition
  • To address any qualifying exigency concerning a spouse, child or parent who is in active military duty or who has been called to active duty

In some cases, employees may be able to take their FMLA leave by reducing their working hours instead of stopping work completely. However, employees must get approval from their employer in order to take reduced-schedule leave after the birth or placement of a child. Furthermore, if the employee is taking medical leave because of a planned medical treatment, the employee must try to schedule the leave in a way that does not unnecessarily burden the employer's operations.

Employers may also require employees to take FMLA leave concurrently with paid sick leave or vacation time.

When to contact an attorney

Employees should contact an attorney if they suspect that their employer has violated their right to protected FMLA leave. This could include denying rightful leave, refusing to return the employee to the same or equivalent job position when returning from leave, terminating employment or retaliating against the employee for taking or requesting leave. An attorney can help employee's understand their rights and can take legal action against the employer if it is warranted.