The Family Medical Leave Act protects American workers from discriminatory practices which prevent them from taking necessary medical leave. An employee may take up to 3 months' total unpaid leave from work per year under specific conditions. The employee retains full job security and company group health benefits during the period of absence.
A person is eligible if their company employs 50 or more workers within a 75-mile area, and the employee has accumulated a minimum of 1,250 work hours during a cumulative period of at least 12 months. There are additional leave days for specific conditions, such as up to 26 weeks leave for workers who care for incapacitated family military service members.
Comprehensive FMLA laws and benefits
Frequently asked questions and in-depth information for workers and employers are available on the WHD website. If an employer forbids an employee to use any or all of the allowable number of FMLA days off for covered conditions, the employee should contact the United States Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division.
Sanctions against company non-compliance with FMLA laws
Employees who suffer discrimination or any form of retaliation for proper use of FMLA benefits may want to hire experienced professionals to represent them in a court action against their employer and its representatives. Judgments awarded to plaintiffs upon successful litigation include attorney fees, liquidated damages, back pay and possibly front pay:
- Attorney fees: The FMLA allows employees who win lawsuits against employers to recover the total cost of attorney fees from initial contact to case conclusion. The fee award amounts can be substantial in cases that require extensive case preparation and multiple court appearances.
- Liquidated damages: The FMLA requires an employer who violates FMLA rights to pay liquidated damages in the form of double pay. An employee takes a period of absence in good faith, trusting that the employer will adhere to FMLA standards. Any employer who violates these standards to the employee's detriment—unless it can prove the violation was unintentional—must automatically double the plaintiff's normal wages for both back pay and front pay.
- Back pay and front pay: Back pay constitutes the wages an employee lost because of the employer's FMLA violation. If the litigation took 28 months, the employee receives double the amount of wages he or she could have earned from working during that time. Front pay, although not always awarded, refers to compensation an employee may deserve from the period in which the case concludes, and the time it takes the worker to find a comparable job.
When filing an FMLA request, an employee needs to be meticulous in meeting the FMLA's filing paperwork requirements, including the provision of medical documentation or time extension requests to the employer. The worker should request copies and keep records of all medical appointments, tests, procedures and communications concerning the FMLA. The employee should also document all events that occur after he or she returns to work in case the employer retaliates by illegal job termination.