The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that allows employees to take a leave of absence — without losing their job — because of their own or an immediate family member’s medical condition or other family responsibility. The act was designed to protect employees from losing their jobs, seniority, or benefits if they need to take leave for certain covered situations such as:

  • Inability to work because of a serious health condition
  • Caring for an immediate family member (parent, child or spouse) with a serious health condition
  • The birth of and care of the employee’s new baby
  • The adoption or foster placement of a baby or child or foster care for placement allowance

FMLA provides eligible employees with up to 12 work-weeks of unpaid leave in a 12 month period. If you qualify and have unused FMLA leave time, your employer cannot deny you this time off.

Not all employers are held to this requirement, however, so it is important to know if your place of work does qualify. For a private-sector employer, they must employ at least 50 workers within 75 miles of the employee’s worksite. All public sector (government) employees are entitled to FMLA regardless of size. For you to be eligible for Family and Medical Leave, you must have worked for your employer for at least 12 months and have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12-month period prior to the request for leave.

How and When to Request FMLA Leave

If you qualify for FMLA leave, you should provide your employer notice that you are requesting FMLA leave. Under the law, an employee must provide their employer with notice that he or she needs FMLA leave. If the leave is foreseeable, the employee should provide at least 30 days’ notice. However, if 30 days notice is not practicable, notice must be given “as soon as practicable.”

“As soon as practicable” is defined as “both possible and practical, taking into account all of the facts and circumstances in the individual case,” but usually within 1 – 2 business days of when the need for leave becomes known.

The law provides that an employee shall provide at least verbal notice sufficient to make the employer aware that the employee needs FMLA-qualifying leave and the anticipated timing and duration of the leave. Although the law may not require it, you should document your request for FMLA leave by putting it in writing or by e-mail and saving a copy.

Protection Does Not Equal Paid

It is important to note that FMLA does not provide for paid leave, though employees may be paid during FMLA leave if they have accrued vacation or sick days. FMLA exists to protect employees from losing their jobs because of a medical condition or family responsibility but does not provide for pay during the leave period. Employees who take qualified FMLA leave are entitled to return to the same or equivalent position and benefits as they held before the leave. However, the law does provide how and when leave should be requested.

As you can imagine, employers are not thrilled with the prospect of employees being able to leave their jobs for extended periods of time without the employer being able to replace them. As a result, FMLA leave is not usually offered or encouraged and may be discouraged. Sometimes those who utilize their FMLA even end up discriminated against. It is not uncommon for employers to violate employees’ FMLA rights. The FMLA declares it unlawful for any employer to interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of or the attempt to exercise, any right provided under the FMLA. The FMLA also prohibits “any employer to discharge or in any other manner discriminate against any individual for opposing any practice” made unlawful by the FMLA employee rights.

If you feel your employee rights to family or medical leave have been violated, you should consult an experienced employee rights lawyer, like Edith Pearce from the The Pearce Law Firm, Personal Injury and Accident Lawyers.

After reviewing your case, they may decide to help you recover lost pay, benefits, health insurance, interest, and/or the cost of providing care to your seriously ill family member. In addition, if it is found you are entitled to these kinds of economic damages, your employer may be penalized for additional damages equal to twice the amount of your economic damages and payment of your employee rights attorney’s fees. 

An experienced and aggressive employee rights attorney will also seek to have your job reinstated as well as any promotions you may have been entitled to. They will also seek attorney’s fees, witness fees, and court costs on your behalf.

FMLA is designed to protect the workers of this nation, allowing them the ability to take needed time off from work with the peace of mind that they will not lose their job. It is important to understand those rights so that you can be confident in your place of work and know that if these rights are violated there is help.