Medical and family issues often leave employees stressed about balancing work and life responsibilities. To aid employees facing these tough situations, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was passed in 1993. This U.S. labor law requires covered employers to provide eligible employees with job-protected, unpaid leave for qualifying health and family reasons.
In Arizona, FMLA leave is available to employees who need time off from work to care for a family member with a serious illness, recuperate from a serious health condition or bond with a new child.
Who Is Eligible for FMLA Leave?
The Family and Medical Leave Act provides employees with up to 12 weeks of leave within a 12-month period. However, not all employees are eligible for job-protected leave under the FMLA. An employee may be eligible to take FMLA leave if they work for a covered employee and:
- Has worked for their employer for at least 12 months
- Have completed at least 1,250 hours of service over the past 12 months
- Works in a location where there are at least 50 employees who are employed by the employer within a 75-mile radius.
To take leave under the FMLA, an eligible employee must also have a qualifying medical or family reason. Not all types of health conditions or life circumstances will enable an employee to take time off of work under the FMLA. For an employee to qualify for job-protected leave, the employee must experience one of the following:
- Gave birth or is caring for a newborn child
- Fostering or adopting a child
- Suffering from a serious medical condition
- Caring for a close family member, such as a parent, child, or spouse, with a serious medical condition
If both you and your spouse work for the same employer, you may be limited to a combined total of 12 work weeks of leave. If the leave involves care for a covered service member with a serious illness or injury, leave could be extended to a total of 26 work weeks.
What Should Employees Know About FMLA Leave?
There are some complexities surrounding FMLA leave, and specifics can differ from employer to employer. Employees are generally required to take FMLA leave consecutively; however, leave may sometimes be taken intermittently or on an hourly
basis. Employees must come to an arrangement with their employers based on their unique situation. For example, an employee may request intermittent leave to undergo a series of medical treatments.
Another common question regarding FMLA leave is whether an employee will be paid during their time away. Under the FMLA, employees are provided with unpaid leave. However, some employers may choose to offer their employees paid leave or allow employees to use their accrued paid leave, such as vacation or sick time. This is ultimately dependent on the employer’s leave policies.
If an employee plans to take FMLA leave, they must request leave by following guidelines in their employer’s leave policy and give their employer enough information to allow the company to determine if the employee’s temporary departure qualifies for FMLA leave. If the leave is foreseeable, employees should request leave at least 30 days in advance. Employers are required to notify employees about FMLA leave eligibility, as well as FMLA rules for any requests for leave.
Employers can request that an employee requesting FMLA leave provide medical information as proof. If an employee requests FMLA leave due to a family member’s medical condition, an employer may require certification from a health care provider that states that the family member has a serious health condition. An employer may also request second or third medical opinions, as well as periodic recertification.
After the FMLA leave is completed, an employee has the right to return to work. The employer must restore the employee’s original job or offer an equivalent job that shares the same responsibilities, pay, and benefits. An employer cannot count an FMLA leave against an employee under a “no-fault” attendance policy.
What Happens If an Employer Violates the FMLA?
Section 105 of the Family and Medical Leave Act states that an employer is prohibited from taking certain actions against employees regarding FMLA leave. These include:
- Discriminating or retaliating against employees or prospective employees for exercising their rights to take FMLA leave
- Interfering with or denying an employee’s FMLA rights
- Discriminating against or discharging an employee for complaining about or opposing unlawful practices under the FMLA
If an employer is found to be in violation of FMLA rights, they could face serious penalties. The U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (WHD) is responsible for investigating both interference claims and retaliation claims made by employees. If an employer is found to have violated the law during an FMLA investigation, the WHD may seek reparations on behalf of the employee.
Penalties that an employer could face if found in violation of an employee’s FMLA rights include the following:
- Lost back pay, such as salary, wages, and benefits that an employee lost due to an employer’s retaliation or interference.
- Lost front pay, such as salary, wages, and benefits that an employee stands to lose in the future due to an employer’s retaliation or interference.
- Liquidated damages may be awarded to an employee and are equal to the amount of awarded back pay and front pay.
- Repayment for court costs if an employee is successful in their case against their employer.
Contact Our Experienced Employment Law Team
If you believe that your FMLA rights as an employee have been violated by your employer, speak with an experienced employment lawyer as soon as possible. You have up to two years to file a claim with the WHD, or three years for willful violations. It may be possible to file a claim after two years, but you may not be able to recover back pay beyond two years.
At JacksonWhite, we understand the stress that employment law issues can have on workers. Contact our employment law team today at (480) 464-1111 to schedule a consultation and discuss your legal options.