Your health and your family are priceless, but most of us spend so much time working to make ends meet or to pursue our financial goals that we do not take the time to appreciate them. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted just how few protections United States law gives to workers who must miss work because of their own illnesses or to care for family members who are ill. Being the primary caregiver of a relative who is ill is a time-consuming and emotionally demanding task, and it is often difficult to keep up with the same job you had before life placed you in this role. Although the rights granted to workers who are ill or who must care for vulnerable family members are meager, especially compared to the policies in place in other developed countries, your employer is legally obligated to allow you to take a medical leave or family leave of several weeks when you need one, and some employers offer more robust leave benefits. To find out more about your rights regarding family and medical leave, contact the Irvine family and medical leave lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP.
Your Rights Under the Family and Medical Leave Act
The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) grants workers the right to take an unpaid leave of absence from work for up to 12 weeks. You have the right to use FMLA leave for any of the following reasons:
- Your own illness or injury
- Caring for a newborn or newly adopted child
- Caring for a close family member who has a serious illness
- Certain situations involving family members who are active duty military, such as deployment
Requesting an FMLA leave is a legally protected action. This means that it is against the law for your employer to retaliate against you for requesting the leave, such as by terminating your employment or denying you a pay raise when you become eligible for one.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges as far as the need of working people to miss work because of their own COVID infections or to care for infected family members. The laws are changing frequently to respond to the challenges of the pandemic. If you have questions about missing work because of COVID-19 infection or exposure, contact the Irvine family and medical leave lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP.
In family leave, as well as other matters, California laws provide workers with more extensive protections than federal laws do. The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) also allows unpaid leave because of the employee’s illness, family caregiving responsibilities, or a close family member’s military service. It grants workers the right to take up to 24 weeks of unpaid family or medical leave, and it includes parents, children, spouses, grandparents, grandchildren, and siblings as eligible family members. All businesses with five or more employees must abide by the provisions of CFRA.
Can You Take Medical or Family Leave Without Invoking FMLA?
Some caregiving responsibilities do not require you to miss work for weeks at a time, but they do require you to miss work. Everyone who has ever provided care for a family member knows that it is a multitude of small tasks that take up your time, energy, and attention. The California Small Necessities Act grants workers the right to miss a total of 24 hours of work in a 12-month period to attend children’s school events (such as parent-teacher conferences or picking up children on early release days) or to transport family members to school events. This means that your employer cannot retaliate against you for occasionally missing work because of family responsibilities. To do so would be employment discrimination based on family status.
Some employment contracts include paid leave in their benefits packages. If you have such an employment contract, your employer has a legal obligation to abide by it. This is a dispute over the enforcement of a contract, though, not an FMLA matter. The Irvine employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP can help you resolve these kinds of disputes, too.
Regarding your own health needs, some employment contracts include a certain number of days of paid sick leave per year. You should not have to use paid sick leave or FMLA leave, though, if your injury or illness happened while you were working and because you were doing your job. Workers’ compensation laws require your employer, or more specifically your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance, to pay for the treatment of work injuries and occupational diseases. The definition of an occupational disease varies from one occupation to another.
What Happens if You Use Up Your FMLA Leave and Still Need to Take More Time Off From Work?
If you use all 12 weeks of FMLA leave in a given year, this could signal to your employer that your health issues are severe. Your employer should contact you and ask if you require reasonable accommodations for a disability. Medical privacy laws prohibit your employer from asking specific questions about your medical history, but taking an FMLA leave is one of the events that can initiate the negotiation process for requesting and providing reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. Even if you do not take 12 weeks of FMLA leave, or any FMLA leave at all, you have the right to request disability accommodations if you require them, and your employer must negotiate with you about which accommodations are reasonable, instead of simply denying your request outright. Requesting reasonable accommodations for a disability is a protected action, just as requesting an FMLA leave is.
Contact HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP About Family and Medical Leave in Irvine
Whether through federal or state laws or your employer’s own policies, you have the right to take family or medical leave from work if you need it. HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP can help you resolve disputes with your employer about family or medical leave. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Irvine, California to set up a consultation.