You never know when life is going to throw you a curveball. You might have a parent who is hit with a sudden illness, a child who is diagnosed with a chronic condition or you could be in a car accident that puts you into the hospital.
The last thing you need in that situation is to worry about having enough sick leave or vacation time to be away from work to care for yourself or your loved one. You should not have to worry about having to choose between keeping your job and caring for your loved one, either.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was designed to offer qualifying employees the time they need away from work to care for a parent, spouse or child, or to address their own medical conditions.
What Is The FMLA?
The FMLA is a federal law that protects workers who need to take time off from work to care for members of their immediate family, specifically their parents, spouses or children, or to care for their own medical conditions. It allows for up to 12 weeks of unpaid, protected leave so that employees can care for themselves or their loved ones without worrying about losing their jobs.
Under FMLA guidelines, employees may take time off without worrying about losing their job. Qualifying employers cannot deny FMLA leave to qualifying employees, nor can they ask an employee to not take the time off. Employers also cannot cut pay or hours as payback for taking leave. Federal laws protect employees from retaliation from employers so that they can take the time they need without worrying about work.
Not all employers fall under the FMLA guidelines. If an employer is a private company that has more than 50 employees, then they are very likely covered by the law. Additionally, all federal, state and local governmental agencies are covered by the law, along with all elementary and secondary schools.
In order for an employee to qualify for FMLA leave, he or she must have worked for the employer for at least 12 total months. Those 12 months do not need to be continuous, so this allows for seasonal work. (If you have more than a seven year break in service, then you cannot count the the work you did prior to the seven year period)
You must have also worked for your employer for at least 1250 hours in the past 12 months, and your employer must have at least 50 employees in a 75-mile radius of your place of work. If you meet all of these qualifications, and if your employer is covered by FMLA guidelines, then you would be eligible for FMLA leave.
Situations That Qualify For FMLA
FMLA guidelines provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period. You can choose to take these continuously or periodically, depending on your need.
Remember, the FMLA leave applies to your own care or the care of a child, spouse or family member. It also applies to an employee who is in loco parentis, meaning he or she provides day to day support (either via care or via financial support) to a child that is not a biological child, which includes relatives caring for children whose parents are active duty military or same-sex couples raising a child together.
Here are some general situations that qualify for FMLA leave:
- Any condition or situation that requires an overnight stay in the hospital
- Any conditions that require more than three consecutive days away from work (for yourself, a parent or spouse) or school (in the case of a child) that also require ongoing treatment from physicians, either with a single follow-up appointment or with ongoing appointments
- Chronic conditions that require treatments at least twice a year
- Pregnancy, including bed rest, morning sickness and doctor appointments
- The birth of a child, which allows for 12 weeks of unpaid leave for both the mother and father (Note: Pregnancy leave must be taken continuously, unless the employee is allowed to drop to part-time status)
FMLA leave also covers certain situations for military families. It can be used in certain situations during deployment, and it also allows for a total of 26 weeks of unpaid leave to be used in a 12-month period to help care for a member of the military who has suffered a serious injury or condition.
FMLA leave can be invaluable when you know you don’t have enough sick time to cover days off for recurring treatments like chemotherapy, or for days off to recover from the side effects of those treatments.
How An Employment Lawyer Can Help
Though FMLA leave is available to all qualifying employees, that does not always mean that employers will allow it. Either they do not understand the rules governing FMLA leave, they contest whether it applies or they do not want to comply. If you are having trouble accessing your right to FMLA leave, or if you experience retaliation as a result of taking advantage of FMLA leave, then you can file a claim against your employer.
The Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) oversees FMLA compliance. If you have reason to believe your rights have been violated, you can file a complaint with the WHD. That complaint should include details of the situation, including your name and contact information, your company’s information (including location, manager’s name and supervisor’s name) and a complete explanation of why you believe that your rights were violated.
Filing a complaint against your employer can be stressful, so you might choose to work with an employment attorney who can guide you through the process. After a quick evaluation, an employment attorney can present to you your options for the best possible outcome, whether it’s filing a claim with the WHD or filing a private lawsuit. In many cases, you could be entitled to monetary compensation for lost wages, out of pocket expenses, legal fees and even emotional distress. If your job has been impacted by retaliation, then you could get your job back and also receive FMLA leave that you were denied.
You can meet with an employment attorney for an evaluation, at which point you will find out what the attorney charges. Many employment lawyers will work on a contingency basis, meaning that you do not have to pay up front and will only be required to pay if you win your case. While hiring a lawyer does not guarantee that you will win your case, it will greatly increase the chances of a favorable outcome.
For more information about how an employment attorney can help you, fill out a free case evaluation.