When it works as intended, the Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, provides workers much-needed time off to attend to their own health or the well-being of their loved ones without having to worry about keeping their jobs. Too often, though, employers illegally discriminate against employees who request FMLA leave or retaliate against workers who exercise their rights to take FMLA leave.
Enforcing your FMLA leave rights requires understanding how the law works and what employers can and cannot do. When your FMLA rights are violated, you have legal options for holding your employer accountable.
Who Can Take FMLA Leave
An individual who works for a company or agency that employees 50 or more people becomes eligible to request FMLA once they have held their job for 12 months or after they have worked for at least 1,250 hours. Once they become eligible, an employee can take up to 12 weeks of FMLA leave per year to care for themselves or a family member, due to a serious medical condition. An update to the law also makes up to 26 weeks of unpaid annual leave available to people who must take care of family members who suffered serious injuries or became seriously ill while serving in the military. Am I Eligible for FMLA Leave in Ohio?
Reasons Employees Can Take FMLA Leave
According to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), eligible employees can request FMLA leave for any of the following:
- For the birth and care of the newborn child;
- For placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care;
- To care for an immediate family member (i.e., spouse, child, or parent) with a serious health condition; or
- To take medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition.
As noted above, unpaid leave can also be requested to care for a family member who is suffering from a military service-related injury or illness.
How Can Employees Take FMLA Leave?
Certain rules apply to requesting and taking FMLA leave.
First, an employee can request FMLA leave on a continuous or intermittent basis. Continuous leave is usually for a period of days or weeks. Intermittent leave is used on a more short-term basis and can be broken down into days or hours. For example, an employee can use intermittent FMLA leave and take 3-4 hours off in a workday to attend a doctor’s appointment or because of a flare-up in symptoms. FMLA leave can help an employee who experiences sudden flare-ups of a condition and must call off work, go home early or not report to work at all because of those symptoms.
An employee can take FMLA leave even if they have not used up all of their paid time off. Your employer can make you use your PTO/sick leave concurrently with your FMLA leave, meaning you are exhausting both at the same time. Employers can also choose to, but are not required to, allow you to use FMLA and PTO/sick leave independently of one another.
Lastly, an employee must notify their employer as early as is practical that they intend to or need to take FMLA leave.
Reasons an Employer Can Legally Deny FMLA Leave Requests
FMLA rules assume that employers will grant requests for unpaid leave to eligible employees. However, an FMLA leave request can be denied when:
- The company or agency employs fewer than 50 people at locations within a 75-mile radius of the requesting employee’s usual worksite;
- The requesting employee has not been on the job for 12 months or has not yet worked a total of 1,250 hours;
- The reason for requesting FMLA leave is not one of those listed above; or
- The requesting employee cannot provide evidence, such as a note from a doctor or a FMLA certification filled out by a doctor, that FMLA leave is required for a serious medical condition.
Examples of FMLA Discrimination and Retaliation in Ohio
Once an employee requests or takes FMLA leave, their employer cannot take actions that appear to punish the person for doing so. Retaliation for exercising FMLA rights can take many forms, including
- Bullying and harassment based on FMLA leave;
- Penalizing employee for attendance related to FMLA leave;
- Reassignment to a job with lower pay upon return from FMLA leave;
- Reductions in pay and benefits upon return from FMLA leave; and
- Termination because of usage of FMLA leave.
Options for Victims of FMLA Discrimination and Retaliation
Interfering with an employee’s exercise of FMLA rights is a violation of federal law. The employee who was discriminated or retaliated against can report the violation to the DOL and partner with an employee rights attorney to file a lawsuit. The lawsuit can seek back and front pay with interest, other compensatory damages, and attorney fees, should the employee win at trial.
Employee rights attorneys with The Friedmann Firm welcome questions about FMLA leave. We provide free and confidential consultations to workers, so let us know if we can be of service. Request an appointment online or call us at 614.610.9755.
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