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The Family Medical Leave Act

Most managers and bosses want the best for their employees. This includes incidents like serious accidents, but also with regard to illness and other factors that could keep an employee out of the office for some time. The federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was designed to help workers handle serious, long-term health issues, while still making arrangements with an employer to return to work later on. Misinformation abounds on the subject, however, and it is imperative that you see through it, especially if you think the FMLA will ever apply to you.

Who Does FMLA Apply To?

Some are under the misapprehension that the FMLA applies to any worker, which is unfortunately not the case. An employer must be “covered” before the law applies to its workers. A covered employer must meet specific criteria, which are:

  • Any public agency, regardless of the level of government
  • Any public or private elementary or secondary school
  • Any private employer that has 50 or more employees in 20 or more workweeks (in other word, that 20 cumulative workweeks between them)

Even if your employer is covered, FMLA does not apply to every single worker. The criteria for workers is equally as specific: to qualify, you must have worked for your employer for at least 12 months, and during that period, you must have worked at least 1,250 hours, in a location where your employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles. However, the 12 months of employment do not have to be consecutive. For example, if you have worked for the same seasonal employer for six years, but only for two months per year, you would likely qualify for FMLA if you meet the other criteria.

What Are My Rights?

If you fit the criteria, the text of the Act is very specific about the amount and type of leave you are entitled to. The most important for many workers, and also the most controversial, is the grant of leave for any serious health condition that renders an employee “unable to perform the essential functions of [their] job.” The word “serious” has given rise to debate, especially in regard to workers with disabilities. Employers differ on what kind of proof must be submitted in order for a disability or illness to qualify as ‘serious,’ but generally, anything that requires either inpatient treatment or continuing treatment by a medical professional will qualify.

Some employers do use FMLA requests as reason to discriminate against workers, figuring that disability or another health condition will render a worker less productive. However, the text of the statute is very clear that this leave is permissible if your health condition qualifies, and if your employer refuses to grant it, or takes action against you for requesting it, you may have a cause of action against them for discrimination. You may also file a complaint with the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor.

Get Your Questions Answered

If you are experiencing an illness or another situation where you are legally entitled to take a leave of absence from work, you may have questions about your specific circumstances. If you do, the best action you can take is to consult an experienced employment law attorney. Attorney A. Christopher Potts has been practicing South Carolina employment law for many years, and understands that your health and your family’s is always your paramount concern. Call today or complete our web form to schedule a free consultation.

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