A medical leave of absence allows an employee to leave work for a certain amount of time due to a medical condition, and return to their same position without being penalized by their employer. Whether a medical leave of absence is paid or unpaid depends on the situation, as well as each state’s specific laws regarding the matter. Medical leave of absence is largely addressed by the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) of 1993.
The Family and Medical Leave Act is a federal labor law that requires covered employers to provide their employees with leave for qualified medical and family circumstances. The Act provides rights and protections for employees who must take a medical leave of absence, and may continue unpaid leave for up to twelve weeks. Additionally, the Act requires that covered employers are to preserve all eligible employee’s health benefits as if they were actively working. The employee’s position is to be protected and they are not to be terminated.
Once again, the Act is a federal law, this means that it preempts state laws even if those laws conflict. Some states may have laws that provide more coverage than the Act, depending on each specific situation. However, most states do not provide more leave than what is required by federal law. Additionally, not all employers are required to provide the benefits as outlined by the FMLA. An employer must provide eligible employees with FMLA coverage if the employer meets one of the following criteria:
- They are a state, local, or federal government agency;
- They are a private business conducting interstate commerce, with fifty or more employees working twenty or more weeks in one year; or
- They engage in commerce, or an industry affecting commerce.
What Is a Medical Leave of Absence Lawsuit?
Disputes may occur involving a medical leave absence, and such disputes most often occur when an employer disagrees with the employee’s absence. One of the most common reasons why an employer may disagree with an employee’s absence would be if the employer does not believe that the employee is actually eligible for protections under the FMLA.
For an employee to be eligible to receive protections under the FMLA, they must meet all of the following three criteria:
- The employee must have worked for the employer for the last twelve months;
- Over the last twelve months, the employee must have worked at least 1,250 hours; and
- The employer must also be covered by the Act.
Disputes involving a medical leave of absence can sometimes be resolved within the company’s human resources department. If the matter is not resolved after exhausting all available administrative remedies, a complaint may be filed with the Wage and Hour Division (“WHD”) of the Department of Labor (“DOL”).
The Department of Labor will conduct an investigation into the practices and conduct of the employer, and determine if they are able to bring the employer into compliance. Should they be unable to bring the employer into compliance with the FMLA or remedy the issue with the disgruntled employee, the employee may then file a civil lawsuit for the violation.
Some examples of serious issues involving a medical leave of absence include but may not be limited to:
- Wrongful termination while on medical leave covered by the FMLA;
- Discrimination issues, such as denying rightful leave to an entire group of workers who all belong to a protected class;
- Punishing an employee with a demotion or withholding a promotion because of their medical leave of absence;
- Denial of benefits due to a medical leave of absence;
- Intimidating or harassing an employee as a result of a medical leave request, or while the employee was away on leave; and
- Long term reduction or loss of wages in retaliation to an employee taking a medical leave.
Another serious example would be violation of rights. In some states, employees are granted a set amount of time in which they must obtain a doctor’s note to explain why a medical leave of absence is necessary. If the employer were to threaten the employee with termination within the allowance, the employer may be liable for a violation of rights.
What Should I Consider When Filing a Medical Leave of Absence Lawsuit?
It is important to keep timing in mind when filing a lawsuit involving a medical leave of absence. State laws differ in regards to how much time can pass before you will no longer be able to file a lawsuit. In general, the statute of limitations is around two years. If your employer wilfully and purposefully violated the law regarding a medical leave of absence, the statute of limitations is three years.
As previously mentioned, you will likely not be allowed to file a civil lawsuit until you have exhausted your human resources remedies and the DOL has conducted an investigation. In order to help support your claim, it is important to gather and maintain all evidence you can. Further, you should be sure that both you and your employer meet the criteria for FMLA eligibility.
Do I Need an Attorney for Medical Leave of Absence Lawsuits?
You should consult with a skilled and knowledgeable employment attorney if you are having any issues with a medical leave of absence. An experienced employment attorney can help you understand your state’s specific laws on medical leave, as well as your legal rights.
Additionally, an employment attorney can initiate a civil lawsuit against your employer. Finally, an attorney can represent you in court as needed.