By Angela M. Ward, Attorney
The Family and Medical Leave Act, also called FMLA, was enacted to help families in times of need. Established in 1993, this federal labor law provides unpaid, job-protected leave to qualified employees for various medical and family reasons, including caring for a new child and caring for sick relatives. While some states have passed their own FMLA laws, Pennsylvania employees are limited to the rights guaranteed under the federal law.
While the FMLA legislated protection against certain types of discrimination, some employers, intentionally or unintentionally, violate this law. Lancaster County employees should take time to get to know their rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act and, when necessary, seek the help of an FMLA attorney to protect those rights.
Who is Covered Under the Family and Medical Leave Act?
This labor law is intended to protect employees of federal, state, and local public agencies, including public schools and employees of private companies that employ 50 or more people during 20 or more workweeks in the current or previous calendar year.
To qualify for FMLA leave, an employee must have worked for one of these company types for at least a year and must have worked at least 1,250 hours during the previous calendar year. Notably, the employee must work at a location with at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius.
When is FMLA Applicable?
To Care for a New Child
When an employee, male or female, is welcoming the birth, adoption, or fostering of a new child, both parents are eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for and bond with the child if they work for a qualified employer and meet the employee requirements. The Act also applies to those serving in loco parentis, referring to the person who provides day-to-day care and financial support to the child even if there is no biological or legal relationship.
To Tend to a Health Condition
The Act allows an employee to take leave if they cannot work due to their own serious health condition. Additionally, FMLA allows leave to care for a child, spouse, or parent with a serious health condition, including problematic pregnancies, illnesses requiring a hospital stay or extended treatments, or chronic conditions that occasionally leave the employee or relative incapacitated.
To Cover Military Deployment
FMLA leave may apply under certain situations related to military deployment. According to a guide published by the U.S. Department of Labor,
“If your spouse, parent, son or daughter is a military member who is deployed or has been notified of an impending deployment to a foreign country, and you work for a covered employer and are an eligible employee, you may be entitled to qualifying exigency leave. Qualifying exigency leave allows you to take up to a total of 12 workweeks of FMLA leave for qualifying exigencies, such as making different daycare arrangements for the military member’s children or attending official military ceremonies as your family member prepares to deploy.”
An eligible employee may also take up to 26 weeks of FMLA leave in one 12-month period to care for a covered servicemember with a serious illness or injury.
Does FMLA Leave Need to be Taken all at Once?
The Family and Medical Leave Act offers the flexibility of taking that leave in a single chunk, such as 12 weeks to care for a new child, or in smaller blocks of time, such as occasional medical treatments or returning to work on a part-time basis after surgery. While FMLA leave is unpaid, the employer must continue the employee’s health coverage during the leave and guarantee the same job or a nearly identical job when the employee returns.
In cases where there is accumulated paid leave, such as sick days or vacation days, an employer may require the employee to use it, or an employee may choose to use it in conjunction with their FMLA leave so they continue to receive some pay during a portion of their absence.
What is FMLA Discrimination?
Some employers do not honor an employee’s rights under The Family and Medical Leave Act. Be on the lookout for these forms of FMLA discrimination:
An employer’s no-fault policies allow organizations to use a point system to penalize absences, regardless of the reason. These employers can discipline or even fire employees who have accumulated a certain number of points. By law, however, such policies must exclude FMLA absences.
Any employer who refuses to authorize FMLA leave for a qualified employee or attempts to manipulate an employee’s hours or work history to disqualify them from taking leave violates federal labor laws
Failure to Honor Terms of the Leave
An employee returning from FMLA leave should return to the position that he or she vacated but oftentimes said employee faces discrimination in the form of returning to a lesser position, lower pay, fewer benefits, and an unfavorable work schedule.
Biased Employment Decisions
Some employers may assume that new parents, employees taking health leave, or military families cannot fully dedicate themselves to their jobs. In those cases, they may discriminate against an employee who has taken FMLA leave when it comes time for promotions.
Fight FMLA Discrimination
Lancaster County employees preparing to take FMLA leave should discuss their rights and requirements with their employers. They should record their intent and FMLA rights in writing and submit them to their employers before taking leave when possible. It’s also a good idea to review policies regarding paid and unpaid leave in an employee handbook if it exists. Even in an at-will employment state such as Pennsylvania, where employers can generally fire workers at any time and for any reason, an employee may have a case for discrimination or wrongful termination if the employer ignored policies written in the employee handbook.
Lancaster County workers who meet the Act’s qualifications who believe their covered employers did not grant them FMLA or discriminated against them because they took FMLA leave should seek the guidance of an experienced employee rights lawyer. An attorney can file paperwork to compel an employer to approve FMLA leave or, in the case of discrimination, ensure that an employee receives compensation for lost wages and benefits.
Contact the Law Offices of Going and Plank in downtown Lancaster. We can evaluate the case, gather necessary evidence, file a claim promptly, and protect against retaliation.
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