Family & Medical Leave Act

The Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was adopted by Congress in 1993 to ensure that employees working in Pennsylvania and across the U.S. could take time off from work to deal with serious medical and family issues without losing their jobs. Because it is a federal law, it applies to workers across the U.S., regardless of which state you live in. It can be a tremendous benefit in times of health and family crisis, but there are important limitations that every employee should be aware of.

Your FMLA Rights

In general, the FMLA allows employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off per year for the following reasons:

  • To take medical leave when the employee cannot work because they have a serious health condition;
  • To care for an immediate family member (spouse, child or parent) with a serious health condition;
  • For the birth and care of the newborn child of an employee;
  • For placement of a child with the employee for adoption or foster care.

An employee can take the 12 weeks all at once or intermittently throughout the 12-month period. An employee can also use FMLA leave to work a reduced weekly or daily work schedule. But the employee is required to make a reasonable effort to schedule medical treatment so as not to unnecessarily disrupt the employer’s operations.

The FMLA Doesn’t Apply to All Employers and Employees

It’s important to know that if you work for a small company, the FMLA may not apply to you. The FMLA only affects employers with more than 50 employees, and the employee must work at a location where his or her employer has at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius. Also, you only qualify for FMLA benefits once you have worked for your employer for at least 12 months and have worked at least 1,250 hours (around 24 hours a week) during those 12 months. The 12 months do not have to be consecutive.

FMLA Retaliation Claims

Perhaps the most important – and most complicated – feature of the FMLA is the requirement that an employer must restore an employee returning from leave to his or her original job or an “equivalent” job that:

  • Offers the same shift or general work schedule, and is at a geographically proximate worksite;
  • Involves the same or substantially similar duties, responsibilities, and status;
  • Includes the same general level of skill, effort, responsibility and authority; 
  • Offers identical pay and benefits (such as life insurance, health insurance, disability insurance, sick leave, vacation, pensions, etc.).

An employer cannot fire, demote, or retaliate in any way against an employee for taking FMLA leave.

An employee who brings a lawsuit under the law can recover significant damages, including:

  • Economic damages (lost wages and benefits)
  • Job reinstatement
  • Liquidated damages equal to twice the amount of economic damages, unless an employer can show it acted in good faith
  • Attorneys’ fees and costs

The FMLA can be an important tool for balancing your work and family responsibilities, and most employers are reasonable about allowing employees to take time off for urgent personal reasons. But if you feel you are being denied your rights under the FMLA, it’s important to talk to an attorney who can guide you through the provisions of this complex law and help you maximize its benefits and protections.