The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) was enacted to make sure that every employee, man or woman, was able to balance the demands of the workplace with the needs of their family.  It requires employers (of 50 employees or more) to provide the necessary unpaid leave to their employees so they can care for sick family members, or help care for new born children.  If you qualify under its provisions, you have a fundamental right to provide care for your family while still keeping you job security. 

I’ve Been Denied Leave By My Employer. Is This Discrimination?

There are many factors that must be taken into account before you can answer that question.  An employer is only obligated to give very certain types of leave, by law, and those are all unpaid.  Paid vacation, minor sick leave, and the like, are completely the prerogative of the employer (though he still must not engage in discrimination when granting such types of leave). However, being denied leave to take care of a family member may be seen as discrimination against one’s familial status, which is illegal in certain states.

The unpaid leave required of employers under the FMLA is very specific, so make sure you actually have a right to the leave time before you do anything rash. 

Check the family / medical leave requirements

First detemine whether you meet the requirements to quality for family / medical leave:

  • Have you worked for your employer for at least a year and worked 1,250 hours in the past year? 
  • Does your employer employ at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius?  
  • Is your leave to care for a new child, for your own serious health condition or to care for a sick child, spouse or parent?
  • Do you still have sufficient leave left to apply for (only 12 weeks per year are required of the employer)
  • Do you not have one of the top 10% salaries within the company? 

If you answered "yes" to all those questions, and your employer has refused to grant your leave request, he very likely may be in violation of the FMLA.  You should contact an employment lawyer immediately find out your options and how best to proceed.

What If I Answered No?

If you answered no to some of the questions above, all is not lost.  You should find out if your state or union has any additional protections above and beyond what is offered from FMLA.  Some employees who are not covered by the FMLA may be entitled to an additional leave, such as paid time off, because of a employer’s own policies, a union contract, state law, Worker’s Compensation or the Americans with Disabilities Act. Check your employee handbook or personnel policies or consult with an attorney about what other protections may be available to you.

Remember to also keep paper records of everything you can.  When you request leave, do it in writing, and keep copies of everything you send or receive to your superiors, as well as any medical documentation.  This will go along way in helping your case.

If I Feel I’ve Been Discriminated Against, How Should I Proceed?

There are several routes you can take.  If you are a union member, contact the shop steward to see if you have any special union arrangements with your company.  You can also file an internal grievance within your company, if it has such a system (most do).  Contact a human resource manager with your concerns.  But be warned, an HR manager may (and often is) be more concerned about the company then your well being. 

Contacting a Lawyer

If you know you are covered by the FMLA and have been discriminated against, or if you are unsure of what rights you have, the easiest way to get advice that will definitely be in your best interest is to consult an discrimination attorney. They will be able to explain all the subtleties between the different employment laws in your state.  This field is particularly difficult to navigate, and is full of over-lapping statutes, so a good lawyer will be essential for you to maximize your rights and protect your job.