The Family and Medical Leave Act, or “FMLA,” is a federal labor Act passed in 1993. The Act provides all eligible employees with up to twelve weeks of unpaid medical leave while protecting their position in their absence. Certain employees have the right to take time off of work in order to tend to their own health problems, or take care of another such as an ill family member.
All employers covered by the Act are required to preserve the employee’s health benefits, just as if they were still actively working. Additionally, the Act prohibits employers from terminating any eligible employee while they are on leave.
As the Act is a federal law, it can preempt state labor laws that may conflict with the FMLA. Thus, an otherwise eligible employee working in a state that offers little to no family and medical leave may likely find protection under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Some states do have labor laws that actually provide more coverage than the Act, depending on the specific health or medical circumstances. However, in general, many states do not provide more leave than what is required by federal law.
It is important to note that not all employers are required to adhere to the Family and Medical Leave Act. According to federal law, employers are required to provide eligible employees with the benefits and leave detailed by the Act if the employer:
- Is a state, local, or federal governmental agency;
- Is a private business that conducts interstate commerce with fifty or more employees, and those employees work twenty or more weeks in one year; and/or
- Engages in commerce, or participates in an industry that affects commerce.
Nearly every business falls under the requirement of engaging in commerce, or participates in an industry that affects commerce.
Could Violating the Family and Medical Leave Act Justify a Lawsuit?
In general, employers must allow their eligible employees to return to their former position once taking leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. However, there are some exceptions to this rule that should be understood before discussing any employer violations. First, employees on leave do not necessarily have any more rights or privileges than any of their fellow employees. What this means is that if an employer determines that a round of layoffs is necessary, an employee who is on FMLA leave is just as susceptible to being laid off as any other employee, without their employer committing any violation.
Second, any employee who is earning one of the top ten percent salaries at the company does not have any inherent right to be reinstated to their position with the same rate of pay and benefits once returning from FMLA leave. This is especially true if their return from leave would cause substantial and grievous economic burden to the company.
In order to determine whether an employer’s actions have triggered a FMLA violation, it must be determined whether the employer is required to submit to the FMLA or not. In addition to the criteria previously mentioned, only employers of fifty or more individuals are legally required to adhere to the regulations set forth by the Family and Medical Leave Act. Next, it must be determined whether the employee is eligible for FMLA benefits. Some of the most common criteria include:
- The employee must have worked at least one year with the company; and
- The employee must have worked at least 1,250 hours.
Some of the common problems that cause employers to trigger a FMLA violation include:
- Lack of Notice: By law, employers required to adhere to the FMLA are also required to provide their employees with notice of the FMLA. Additionally, employers are legally allowed to ask their employees for certain documents related to their claim in order to verify information. However, requiring an employee to hand over an excessive amount of documentation, or failing to provide adequate notice of FMLA benefits, could be considered a violation;
- Mismanagement of Leave Time: Eligible employees are entitled to up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave per year for qualifying conditions. During this leave, an employer may communicate with the employee, but not to the extent that it interferes with the employee’s time off. Mismanaging an employee’s leave could result in grounds for a lawsuit; and
- Reinstatement Issues: As previously mentioned, all employees who take FMLA leave are entitled to be reinstated to their position once returning from leave. Although this provision is subject to certain exceptions, failure to reinstate an employee is a violation.
Do I Need an Attorney for an FMLA Violation Lawsuit?
If your employer has violated your FMLA rights, or if you are an employer wanting to ensure you do not commit a violation, you should consult with a skilled and knowledgeable employment law attorney. An experienced employment law attorney can help you understand if you qualify under the FMLA, and if your employer has committed a violation. Additionally, they can file a lawsuit on your behalf, if needed. Finally, an attorney in your area can represent you in court, as needed.