You may have heard that, at least in the United States, the best financial advice is “don’t get sick.” This depressing fact is due not only to the high cost of healthcare and medical insurance, but also to the scarcity of paid leave that employees may take to attend to their own medical needs or those of a close family member. Federal and state laws give most employees the right to take a leave of absence from work because of the employee’s own illness or because of family caregiving responsibilities, but the legally mandated leave is always unpaid. In effect, the laws protect workers from having their employment terminated in retaliation for missing work for short periods of time due to medical or family-related reasons; they do not guarantee anyone the right to paid medical leave benefits. It is against the law for your employer to forbid you to take a legally mandated family or medical leave for a qualifying reason or to take adverse action against you for requesting this leave. If your employer is giving you trouble about taking a leave of absence from work to care for your own health or that of a family member, contact the Charlotte employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP.
The Federal Family and Medical Leave Act
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that protects workers from losing their jobs if they need to take time off of work because of their own health problems or in order to care for a close family member. The law entitles workers who take an FMLA leave to be absent from work for up to 12 weeks without having their employment terminated. It also entitles workers to return to their same positions after completing the FMLA leave and to continue receiving the same employer-provided health insurance benefits at the same price during the FMLA leave.
The following are qualifying reasons to take FMLA leave:
- The employee’s illness
- The illness of a close family member of the employee
- Caring for a newborn or newly adopted child
- Relocating due to a family member’s military service
- Caring for a family member who was injured in the course of their military service
Except for reasons related to a family member’s military service, you may only take 12 weeks of FMLA leave in one 365-day period. If you are taking the leave because of a family member’s military service, you can take up to 26 weeks.
Not every employee of every business is entitled to take FMLA leave. Only employees with 50 or more employees working within a 75-mile radius must provide FMLA leave. That means that if your company employs 45 people at its Charlotte location and 45 at its Kitty Hawk location, and these are the only locations it operates, it is not obligated to provide FMLA leave. Likewise, not every employee is entitled to request FMLA leave, even if they work for a qualifying employer. To be eligible to request FMLA leave, you must have worked at least 1,250 in the 365 days leading up to the time that your leave will begin.
North Carolina Laws Providing for Family Leave
In addition to the federal FMLA, North Carolina has enacted two laws at the state level that entitle workers to take unpaid leaves of absence from work because of family responsibilities. One law provides for domestic violence leave. Employees affected by domestic violence may take an unpaid leave of absence of reasonable length to seek a protective order for themselves or for a minor child under their care. The other law is the Small Necessities Law. This law entitles employees to take up to four hours of unpaid leave per calendar year to attend their children’s schools for parent-teacher conferences or other school-related commitments. These state laws provide employees no additional money and very little additional free time, but what they do provide is legal protection from being punished by their employers for briefly missing work in order to attend to important family-related matters.
Is Anyone Entitled to Paid Family and Medical Leave in North Carolina?
For better or worse, federal and state laws consider paid time off from work a want instead of a need, a privilege instead of a right. Whether your employer chooses to offer you any paid time off from work, whether in the form of vacation pay, sick days, or family leave, is up to your employer’s discretion, as is how many days per year to offer and whether you get paid for unused leave at the end of your employment. If your employer verbally makes promises about family leave, medical leave, or any other kind of paid time off, make sure to get it in writing in your employment contract.
If you have paid medical leave or family leave as a provision of your employment contract, you still have the right to take FMLA leave. Your employer is not allowed to make you take paid leave and FMLA leave at the same time. In other words, if you need to miss work for four months to undergo medical treatment, you can use four weeks of paid time off followed by 12 weeks of FMLA leave; your employer cannot ask you to make the leave periods overlap.
If the Law Says Yes, but Your Employer Says No
Under federal law, taking adverse action against an employee for taking an FMLA leave is a form of employment discrimination. If your employer denies you a promotion for which you qualify, creates a hostile work environment, or subjects you to any other form of discrimination, you have the right to file a complaint, and the Charlotte employment discrimination lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP can help you do this.
Contact a North Carolina Employment Lawyer About FMLA Leave
An employment lawyer can help you resolve disputes with your employer related to your request for FMLA leave or state-mandated family leave. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Charlotte, North Carolina to set up a consultation.