Federal law protects workers’ jobs and benefits while they attend to family and medical needs outside the workplace. But what happens when an employer fails to comply with the law?
The Family & Medical Leave Act is a federal law passed in 1993 to grant family and temporary medical leave to eligible employees. While many employers abide by the law by granting employees leave to accommodate their family and medical needs, some choose to ignore or violate the law and jeopardize workers’ livelihoods. If you think your employer has violated your FMLA rights, you need to contact Sommers Schwartz to get answers and take action.
What is the Family & Medical Leave Act?
The Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protects employees while they deal with family or medical situations that takes them from the workplace for an extended period, either in a single block of time or intermittently. The Act provides eligible workers with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year, mandates that group health insurance benefits be continued during the leave as if employees were still working, and entitles a worker to return to his or her same or an equivalent job at the end of their leave.
The FMLA applies to private and public employers who employ 50 or more employees.
To be protected by the FMLA, the employee must have been employed by the same employer for at least 12 months (although not necessarily consecutively) and must have worked at least 1,250 non-overtime hours during the 12 months immediately preceding the first day of the leave period. Additionally, the employee must work at a location where the employer has at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius. The 12 months of employment are not required to be consecutive for the employee to qualify, and breaks in service due to military obligations or under a collective bargaining or other written agreement may be taken into account.
A covered employer is required to extend an eligible worker up to a total of 12 workweeks of unpaid, protected leave in a 12-month period for one or more of the following reasons:
- Birth of a son or daughter;
- Adoption or foster care of a child;
- Care of an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent – but not a parent “in-law”) with a serious health condition;
- Medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition; or
- Qualifying circumstances when the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent is on covered active duty or status as a member of the National Guard, Reserves, or Regular Armed Forces.
For FMLA purposes, a serious health condition is defined as an illness, injury impairment or physical or mental condition that involves one of the following:
- Inpatient care, such as an overnight stay in a hospital, hospice, or residential medical care facility.
- Continuing treatment and incapacity including an inability to work, go to school, or perform regular daily activities due to the serious health condition, treatment, or recovery (various rules and definitions apply).
- Pregnancy that causes incapacity, including prenatal care.
- Chronic conditions requiring treatments that require periodic visits for treatment by a health care provider at least twice per year, that continues over an extended period of time including recurring episodes, and that may cause episodic incapacities, such as asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, and other conditions.
- Permanent or long-term conditions requiring supervision due to a condition for which treatment may not be effective, such as Alzheimer’s, a severe stroke, or the terminal stages of a disease.
- Multiple treatments of non-chronic conditions, including recovery, for situations such as restorative surgery after an accident or other injury, or for a condition that will likely result in a period of incapacity of more than three consecutive calendar days in the absence of medical intervention or treatment, such as cancer treatments, (chemotherapy, radiation, etc.), physical therapy, or dialysis.
Violations of the FMLA by an Employer
Your employer is prohibited from interfering with, restraining, or denying you your rights under the FMLA, as well as retaliating against you for seeking to enforce your FMLA rights by filing a complaint and cooperating with the Wage & Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor) or for bringing private action to court.
Remedies and Damages
Employees whose rights to medical and family leave are violated by their employer are entitled to significant damages under the FMLA that include:
- Economic losses (i.e., lost wages and fringe benefits);
- Liquidated damages doubling the amount of economic losses for intentional violations;
- Job reinstatement; and
- Attorney fees and costs.
Sommers Schwartz’s employment lawyers are experienced in all aspects of FMLA protections, having represented workers across multiple industries in lawsuits against their employers. If you suspect that you’ve been wrongfully denied the FMLA leave or have been unjustly treated as a result of seeking or taking an FMLA leave, contact a Sommers Schwartz attorney today to confidentially discuss your case and learn how we can help.