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Know Your Rights to Family and Medical Leave

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protects your right to return to work when you need time off to:

  • treat or recover from your own serious medical condition;
  • care for a seriously ill child, spouse, or parent; or
  • spend time with a newborn or newly adopted baby.

A “serious health conditions” is one that requires in-care treatment at a medical facility, or ongoing treatment from a physician or other healthcare provider.  As a general rule, if you are incapacitated for a period of three days or more, have sought medical treatment for the condition at least once, and are under an ongoing treatment regimen, then you have a serious health condition that qualifies under the FMLA.

The FMLA requires that your employer give you up to 12 weeks of protected, unpaid medical or family leave per year.  The leave may be continuous or  it may be intermittent (in other words, you may take off every so often as necessary to address the medical condition).  Once the leave ends and you return to work, your employer must give you back your old position or a position that is equivalent in pay, benefits, working conditions, and seniority.

Who Qualifies for Family and Medical Leave Protections?

The FMLA does not apply to everyone.  In order to qualify, you must meet the following eligibility requirements:

  • Your employer must have 50 or more employees within a 75 mile radius of your job site (including part-time employees and those on leave);
  • You must have been employed by your company for at least twelve months; and
  • In those twelve months, you must have worked at least 1,250 hours for the employer. (For example, if you work at least 25 hours/week for 50 weeks).

How to Request a Leave of Absence under the FMLA

Your right to take a leave of absence for family or medical reasons is not automatic.  You first must comply with the notice requirements.

If the need for a leave of absence is foreseeable, then you must notify your employer at least 30 days in advance of the date your leave will begin.  For example, have a surgery scheduled, or are pregnant and wish to take time off after giving birth, you must give your employer 30 days notice.

If your need for a leave of absence is not foreseeable, then you must inform your employer “as soon as practicable” under the circumstances.

You must also give your employer enough information to understand that the leave is needed for an FMLA-qualifying reason.  Your employer may require a doctor’s certification to confirm the need for leave.  They may also require you to seek a third-party opinion at the employer’s expense, periodically recertify your leave, or provide periodic updates during your leave regarding your status and ability to return to work.

You may use accrued paid vacation or sick time as part of your FMLA-protected leave.  Your employer is also allowed to require that you use paid vacation or sick time as part of your leave.

Protecting Your Rights to Family and Medical Leave

Your employer may not deny you a leave of absence if you meet the criteria under the FMLA.  They also may not retaliate against you for taking a leave of absence under the FMLA.  They may not fire you, deny you a raise or promotion, or take any other adverse action against you for taking a qualifying leave of absence.

If you have been denied a family or medical leave, or if you have been fired or suffered an adverse employment action because you took a qualifying leave, then you may be entitled to compensation and reinstatement.

But you must act quickly.  The FMLA contains strict time limits.  If you believe that your employer has violated the Family and Medical Leave Act, you should contact an experienced employment lawyer immediately to protect your rights.  To schedule a free and confidential consultation, call John Howley, Esq. directly at (212) 601-2728.

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