The Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law designed to ensure that employees can take time off of work to deal with serious medical and family issues without worrying about losing their jobs. In the nearly 25 years the Act has been in effect, it has been a tremendous benefit to millions of workers. But it has its limitations.
How Does the FMLA Help Employees?
In general, the FMLA allows employees in Texas and elsewhere in the U.S. to take up to 12-weeks of unpaid leave in any 12-month period if they cannot work because they have a serious medical condition, or if they need to care for an immediate family member with a serious medical condition. FMLA leave can also be taken for the birth or care of a newborn child of the employee, or for the placement of a child for adoption or foster care with the employee.
An employee can take a 12-week FMLA leave all at once, intermittently in separate blocks of time for a single qualifying condition or reason, or by reducing the employee’s regularly weekly or daily work schedule. The employee is required to make a reasonable effort to schedule medical treatment so as not to unnecessarily disrupt the employer’s operations.
Does the FMLA Protect Workers from Job Loss and Retaliation?
Perhaps the most important feature of the FMLA is the requirement it imposes on an employer to restore an employee returning from leave to his or her original job or an equivalent job. “Equivalent” means a job that is virtually identical to the original position in terms of pay, benefits, and other employment terms and conditions.
An employer is barred from firing or retaliating in any way against an employee for taking FMLA leave. Although retaliation can sometimes be hard to prove, an employee who brings a lawsuit under the law can recover significant damages, including:
- Lost wages and benefits (economic damages)
- Liquidated damages equal to twice the amount of economic damages, unless an employer can show he acted in good faith
- Job reinstatement
- Attorneys’ fees and costs
Does the FMLA Apply to All U.S. Employers?
The FMLA only affects employers with more than 50 employees, and is only available to employees who have worked for their employer for at least 12 months and who have worked at least 1,250 hours (around 24 hours a week) during those 12 months. Additionally, the employee must work at a location where his or her employer has at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius.
An employer can require employees to obtain medical certification of their serious medical conditions from their healthcare providers. At their expense, an employer can also require employees to obtain a second medical opinion from another healthcare provider.
Talk to an FMLA Attorney
If you are entitled to leave under the FMLA, take it — with the reassurance that your job should be waiting for you when you come back. But if you feel that your rights under the FMLA been violated or denied, please call us to review your case.