There are few things more stressful in life than being sick or having someone you love fall ill. While it’s common for employers to offer their employees sick leave for their illnesses, you may not know that the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) also allows you to take leave if a family member is experiencing some health difficulties.
The FMLA outlines strict guidelines that employers must follow to ensure their employees can care for themselves or their loved ones during pregnancy, serious illnesses, or other medical situations. If your employer has denied you sick leave or pregnancy leave, then you may have a case for an FMLA violation. An employment lawyer from HKM Employment Attorneys can help you file a claim or seek a settlement from your employer.
How Does FMLA Work in Washington State?
Washington employees have the benefit of a new and robust Paid Family & Medical Leave (PFML) program that allows them to be paid for up to 12 weeks per year if they satisfy any for the following conditions:
- A serious health condition prevents you from working
- You need to provide care for a family member (spouse, domestic partners, children, grandchildren, siblings, parents, or grandparents) with a serious health condition
- You’ve given birth or are bonding with a new child born to you
- You are bonding with a new child you’re adopting or fostering
- You are spending time with a family member in the military who is soon to be deployed overseas or is recently home on leave
Your employer should be notified as soon as possible so that they can make the proper arrangements during your leave. Of course, employees may not know they require leave in cases of emergencies. But if you know ahead of time that you plan on taking family leave or will need to care for a sick parent in the near future, it’s important to let your employer know sooner rather than later.
Those who work in the state should also know the following facts and stipulations regarding Washington’s paid leave program:
PFML allows employees a 12-week paid leave within 12 months
Washington’s version of the FMLA program grants you paid leave for up to 12 weeks of each year. If you are pregnant, your medical leave can be combined with family leave for a total of 16 weeks of leave. Some new parents can receive an additional two weeks of leave if there are pregnancy-related complications they need to recover from.
If it states within your employment contract that these weeks will be paid, but your employer does not uphold their end of the contract, then you may want to discuss your case with an experienced FMLA attorney.
Not all employees are eligible for paid leave
In the state of Washington, employees are eligible for the paid leave program as long as they have worked 16 hours a week (a minimum of 820 hours) in Washington over the last year. These hours do not have to be accumulated at one job and can be combined with hours from multiple employers. This stipulation applies to all workers, including those working part-time or seasonally.
That said, there are still some workers who may not be eligible for paid leave. This includes:
- Federal employees
- Employees who work at businesses located on Tribal land
- Self-employed people who have chosen not to opt into the state program
- If your leave is already covered by a union agreement that hasn’t expired or been renegotiated since October 19, 2017
- If your employer already offers an approved, voluntary plan
An employee cannot apply for leave benefits in Washington ahead of time
At this time, employees cannot apply for the Paid Family & Medical Leave program before the qualifying event takes place. Workers in Washington are eligible to apply for leave benefits at least two weeks after the qualifying event, though you may be able to backdate your claim if you have a good reason for doing so, such as being incapacitated.
An employee will likely remain employed after taking leave
The state law for the Paid Family & Medical Leave program requires that companies with 50 or more employees offer the opportunity of job protection for those who have worked for the company at least a year and for at least 1,250 hours before taking leave. However, an employer may be able to legally deny you the opportunity to return to your job if:
- You are within the highest paid 10% of salaried employees within 75 miles of the job site
- Your employer can prove that your job will no longer exist once you return from leave
While Washington’s Paid Family and Medical Leave program may not offer you job protection, you should speak with an experienced FMLA rights lawyer to see if there are any local or federal laws that could offer you job protection or restoration.
How Employers Disregard Employee FMLA Rights
Common forms of FMLA violations by employers include:
- Ignoring employees’ leave request
- Declaring the provided medical condition insufficient without proper understanding
- Including FMLA leave in the leave of absence
- Failure to provide the leave in good faith
- Asking employees on FMLA leave to report to work
If you meet the conditions, but your employer still denies your proper leave, consult an FMLA attorney to help you file for an FMLA claim.
Gathering Evidence Supporting a Claim
Federal and state law does not require that you disclose personal medical information to your employer in order to be eligible for paid leave. However, this may cause your employer to cast doubt on whether your leave should be approved.
To prevent this from happening, you may want to get a report from your preferred care provider in addition to giving your employer notice. Your healthcare provider will decide how much time you need to care for yourself or a loved one and then share that information with Washington’s Employment Security Department.
Your employer will then receive a letter with the expected start and stop dates for your paid leave, and another letter once your application has been approved or denied.
Seek Legal Counsel from FMLA Lawyers in Bellevue
Employees who feel their FMLA rights have been violated should seek legal redress from knowledgeable lawyers who can help you seek the compensation and justice you deserve. If you believe your employer is violating your right to seek paid leave for an illness, pregnancy, or disability, get in touch with HKM Employment Attorneys to get started with an initial consultation to discuss your case.