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Protecting Employees from FMLA Violations by Employers

In the United States, certain eligible workers may take unpaid leave from work to care for themselves or an immediate family member. This right to take leave is protected by a federal law known as the Family Medical Leave Act. Generally speaking, the FMLA allows eligible employees to take unpaid leave to address personal medical issues or family care issues. The employer must grant the employee time off of work if the employee has a valid reason under the FMLA, and must hold the employee’s position available for them or provide a similar position upon their return. The employer may not retaliate against an employee for requesting or taking FMLA leave, such as by terminating or demoting an employee.

The rules regarding eligibility for FMLA leave can be complicated. As a result, many employees may be unsure whether they can take this protected leave. Employers may also be unclear as to their responsibilities under the FMLA, or in some cases, they may consciously decide to ignore the requirements of the law or punish employees who assert their rights under the FMLA. If you are an employee who believes your rights under the FMLA have been denied or violated by your employer, you need an experienced FMLA attorney who can determine whether you may have a valid claim for compensation for the denial of your rights.

Attorney Stuart Higgins and the team at Higgins Law Firm, PLLC provide free and 100% confidential consultations to help empower our clients. For assistance with Family Medical Leave Act claims, contact us at (515) 619-9148 to schedule your consultation today.

Understanding FMLA

The Family Medical Leave Act is a federal law that provides eligible employees up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave during a calendar year (or up to 26 workweeks to care for an eligible injured military service member). Although leave can be unpaid, an employee who takes FMLA leave must still be afforded group insurance benefits offered through the employer. An employee who takes FMLA leave is entitled to return to their position or an equivalent position at the end of their leave.

The FMLA applies to all local, state, and federal governments and all agencies and entities under those governments. The FMLA also applies to all private businesses who employ 50 or more employees (counting all joint employees and successor employees) for at least 20 workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year.

An employee who works for a covered employer is eligible to take FMLA leave if he or she:

  • Has worked for the employer for at least 12 months (does not need to be consecutive, but must be within the last seven years unless an employee was fulfilling military obligations or unless otherwise provided by a collective bargaining agreement)
  • Has worked (not including paid leave) at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to the start of leave
  • Works at a location where the employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles

The eligible reasons for FMLA leave include:

  • The birth of a newborn and time to bond with the child
  • Placement of a child for adoption or foster care and time to bond with the child
  • To care for a child, spouse, or biological or legal parent with a serious health condition
  • To care for a serious health condition
  • Emergencies arising from the fact that an employee’s spouse, child, or parent is on or called to covered active military, reserve, or National Guard duty

Generally speaking, an employee is required to provide 30 days’ notice of the need to take FMLA leave when the need is foreseeable, and notice is practicable. For less predictable circumstances, an employee is only tasked with providing notice as soon as practicable.

An employee must also comply with the employer’s procedures and requirements for requesting leave or “calling out.” An employee must also provide the employer with enough information to allow the employer to determine whether the FMLA applies to the leave request. If an employee seeks FMLA for the first time, he or she need not explicitly cite the FMLA as the basis for the request. If an employer has previously provided an employee with FMLA leave, then for subsequent requests the employee must specifically reference the qualifying reason or the need for FMLA leave.

How Can an Attorney Help Me with My FMLA Claim?

If you have been denied FMLA leave, or if you believe you have been retaliated against for requesting or taking FMLA leave, an experienced FMLA attorney can help you by reviewing the facts and circumstances of your case to determine whether you are FMLA-eligible and whether you have been denied your rights under the law.

If your employer has potentially violated your FMLA rights, an attorney can help you by contacting your employer to possibly negotiate a resolution to your dispute, either by ensuring that your employer grants your leave request or by obtaining compensation if you have suffered monetary losses as a result of the denial or violation of your FMLA rights.

If appropriate, an attorney can file a grievance with the relevant government agencies for violation of the FMLA. And if necessary, an attorney can help you navigate the justice system if you need to file a lawsuit to vindicate your FMLA rights and obtain compensation for any losses you’ve suffered as a result of the denial or violation of your rights.

What Are the Possible Remedies or Compensation for a FMLA Claim?

The potential remedies and compensation you may be eligible for following a successful FMLA claim depend on the damages you suffered as a result of your employer’s violation. For example, if you were required to incur expenses to address emergencies that you could not handle yourself because you were not permitted to take leave, you may be entitled to compensation for those expenses.

Or, if you were denied pay or compensation (such as bonuses) because FMLA leave was improperly discounted under the provisions of the statute, you might be entitled to that compensation.

If you suffered some other form of retaliation as a result of requesting or taking FMLA leave, such as being demoted or terminated, you may be entitled to remedies such as reinstatement to your original position, along with back pay.

Frequently Asked Questions About the FMLA Claims

What does the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provide?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides eligible employees up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave per year. The FMLA requires group health benefits be maintained during the leave as if employees had continued to work. Employees can also return to their same job at the end of their leave. The FMLA provides certain military family leave entitlements as well.

Does FMLA apply to all employers?

No. In the private sector, companies must have at least 50 employees for 20 or more workweeks in the current or previous calendar year. All Iowa state and other public employers are covered.

Under which conditions do I qualify for FMLA protection?

To be eligible for FMLA leave, you must:

  • have worked for the state for at least 12 months in the past seven years
  • have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months before the start of FMLA leave

How much leave time do I get?

You can take family leave, medical leave, or “qualifying exigency leave” or any combination of the three, for a maximum of 12 weeks per year.

What is “qualifying exigency leave?”

A military family leave provision that may be taken for any qualifying exigency that arises from the the fact that a covered military member is on active duty. The U.S. Department of Labor has a broad list of activities that are considered qualifying exigencies and will allow eligible employees who are family members of a military member to take FMLA leave to address common issues that come about when a covered military member is deployed, such as attending military functions.

Can my employer refuse to grant FMLA leave?

As long as you are an eligible employee who works for a covered employer and have met the notification requirements (and have not already used 12 weeks of FMLA leave in the past year), your employer cannot deny you FMLA leave.

When can I use FMLA leave to care for a family member?

You can take FMLA leave to care for your spouse, your son or daughter (if they’re under the age of 18), or your parent. Your family member must have a qualifying serious health condition. You can only take leave to care for a child over the age of 18 if they are unable to care for themselves due to a disability. FMLA does not allow employees to take leave to care for in-laws.

How does my employer determine the applicable 12-month period?

FMLA has four options for employers when calculating the 12-month period, which are as follows:

  • The calendar year
  • A 12-month period starting with the date that an employee’s first FMLA leave begins
  • A 12-month period that goes backward from when an employee’s first FMLA leave starts
  • A fixed “leave year”. This can be any 12-month period, such as the anniversary of the employee starting with the company

What is considered a serious health condition under FMLA?

Common serious health conditions that qualify for FMLA include:

  • Conditions requiring an overnight hospital stay
  • Conditions that incapacitate you or your family member for over three consecutive workdays and have ongoing medical treatment
  • Chronic conditions that cause periods when you or your family member are incapacitated and require medical treatment at least twice yearly
  • Pregnancy (including incapacity from morning sickness, prenatal doctor’s appointments, and doctor-required bed rest)

Do I need proof that I have a serious health condition?

Your employer may require certification of your serious health condition from your doctor. In general, you should have 15 days to submit the certification. You don’t have to provide your complete medical history and health records.

Does maternity leave or pregnancy disability count as time for FMLA leave?

Yes, this would be considered qualifying FMLA leave for a serious health condition and may be counted in the 12 weeks of leave.

Will I lose my job if I take FMLA leave?

No. Your employer cannot use taking FMLA leave as a factor in employment actions, such as termination or disciplinary actions. However, under a limited number of circumstances, an employer may deny reinstatement to work to certain key, highly-paid salaried employees.

What happens when I return from FMLA leave?

In general, after returning from FMLA leave, an employee must be reinstated to either the same position or a position that is equivalent in pay and benefits to their previous position.

How does FMLA leave affect my health care benefits?

If your employer provides health care benefits, they must maintain those benefits at the same level and under the same conditions

Can I take FMLA leave to care for an ill sibling or extended relative?

Possibly. Although an employee is generally only eligible to take leave for a child, spouse, or parent, an employee may take leave to care for a sibling or extended relative with a serious health condition if the employee is standing in loco parentis to the sibling or relative.

If I am medically limited in the number of hours I can work, can I use FMLA leave to avoid working overtime?

With proper medical documentation, an eligible employee can use FMLA leave instead of working required overtime. However, those hours of overtime can be counted against the employee’s available FMLA leave. Moreover, an employer cannot select employees for mandatory overtime in a manner that discriminates against employees who would need to use FMLA leave.

Can I use paid sick or vacation leave for my FMLA leave?

It depends on your employer’s leave policies. You can use sick or vacation leave to take paid FMLA leave only if your employer allows them to be used concurrently. Your employer is also permitted under the law to require you to use these types of paid leave concurrently with FMLA leave.

Contact a Des Moines FMLA Attorney Today

If you believe that your employer has violated your rights under the Family Medical Leave Act, contact Higgins Law Firm, PLLC at (515) 619-9148 today to schedule a consultation with an experienced FMLA attorney to learn more about your legal rights and options and about how our firm can help you.

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