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Understanding Your Rights: What You Need to Know About the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

As employees, understanding your rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is essential. This federal law may protect your job during certain personal or family health crises. The experienced employment law attorneys at Nichols Kaster PLLP aim to clarify the law, provide an overview of entitlements, and offer guidance on asserting your rights effectively.

What is the FMLA?

Signed into law in 1993, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a pivotal federal law that safeguards employee rights. This legislation ensures that eligible employees receive up to 12 workweeks of unpaid, job-protected leave within a 12-month period for specified family and medical circumstances. The law's coverage extends to public agencies, including public schools and private sector employers with a workforce of 50 employees or more.

In order to be eligible to take leave under the FMLA, an employee must work for a covered employer and meet specific criteria to qualify. The employee must have been employed with the employer for at least 12 months, which does not need to be consecutive. Additionally, an individual must have worked at least 1,250 hours of service in the 12 months preceding the leave to qualify. The FMLA applies to employers with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius of the worksite. If you meet these conditions, you may be eligible for FMLA leave, depending on whether you have a qualifying condition/reason for the leave.

FMLA obligates employers to grant eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave annually for one or more of the following significant life events:

  • The birth of a child and to bond with the newborn child;
  • The introduction of a child into the employee’s household through adoption or foster care;
  • To care for an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent) with a serious health condition;
  • To take necessary medical leave when the employee is unable to work due to a serious health condition; or
  • For qualifying exigencies arising from the fact that the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent is on covered active duty or call to covered active duty status as a member of the National Guard, Reserves, or Regular Armed Forces.

The FMLA also permits eligible employees to take additional leave time to care for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness.

Understanding Your Entitlements

As an employee, it's crucial to know that the FMLA only provides unpaid leave. However, you may choose, or your employer may require you to use accrued paid vacation time, personal leave, or sick leave for some or all of the FMLA leave period. When paid leave is used for an FMLA-covered reason, the leave is FMLA-protected. It is important to ask your employer whether you may be eligible for short-term disability pay during an FMLA leave.

The FMLA also mandates continuation of group health insurance benefits during the employee’s leave period.

Another important aspect of the FMLA is job protection. Upon return from FMLA leave, employees must be restored to their original job or an equivalent job with equivalent pay, benefits, and other employment terms and conditions.

Furthermore, the use of FMLA leave cannot result in the loss of any employment benefit that accrued before the start of the employee’s leave.

Asserting Your Rights

If your rights under the FMLA have been violated, action can be taken. You can lodge a complaint with the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division or initiate a private lawsuit against your employer in court. However, you should consider consulting with a legal professional experienced in employment law before taking action. They can guide you on the best course of action based on your specific circumstances.

When to Seek Legal Help

If you're facing a situation where you believe your employer is violating your rights under the FMLA, it's crucial to seek legal help promptly.

Nichols Kaster PLLP specializes in employment law, advocating for employees' rights. We are committed to helping you understand your rights and assert them effectively. If you need assistance or have questions about the FMLA, contact Nichols Kaster PLLP. We're here to provide the support and expertise you need during this challenging time.