The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off of work for illness, medical needs, and to care for sick family members. Although qualifying employees have a right to take unpaid leave under the FMLA, many employers retaliate against employees for exercising their rights and taking time off of work.
For example, an employee taking 12 weeks off of work after giving birth to a child may return to work to find they have been demoted or fired. If you are an employee in New Paltz, New York, or the surrounding area, and you feel you have been retaliated against for using your FMLA rights, it is important that you speak to a New York employment law attorney about your options.
Understanding Your FMLA Rights as an Employee
The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that protects eligible employees from retaliation for taking time off of work for designated reasons. Most commonly, FMLA issues arise in the context of the birth of a child with serious health conditions. Specifically, employers who the FMLA protects have a right to take up to 12 weeks off, whether consecutively or broken up, for the following reasons:
- The serious health conditions of certain family members
- The employee’s own serious health conditions
- The birth or adoption of a child
- Certain employees affected by military deployments
Does the FMLA Protect Me?
The FMLA doesn’t apply to every employer. The law only covers employees who work for public employers or private employers with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius. Additionally, an employer must have worked at least 1,250 hours in the preceding year to be eligible for FMLA protection. If you have questions about whether the FMLA applies to you, an experienced attorney can advise you on your eligibility for protection.
The FMLA protects a qualified employee’s job for a 12-week period. Employers have an obligation to notify an employee of their right to take FMLA to leave when they receive notice of the employee’s qualifying reason. For example, suppose an employer provides an employee notice of pregnancy, a serious health condition, or the serious health condition of a family member. In that case, the employer has a duty to tell the employee of their FMLA rights. the employee can take all 12 weeks at a time. Instead, the employee can choose to take specific, shorter blocks of time, including hours at a time. When employees use shorter blocks of time, the leave is referred to as intermittent leave.
Employers Cannot Retaliate Against Employees Who Use FMLA Leave
The FMLA protects employees from interference with their right to take unpaid time off for qualifying reasons and retaliation from their employers. Retaliation can take many forms and is not limited to an employer firing an employee for taking time off. Specifically, retaliation could also include one or more of the following adverse employment actions:
- Disciplining an employee for taking FMLA leave
- Demoting the employee
- Refusing to give the employee a similar amount of hours they were working before time off from work
- Denying employee benefits
- Refusing to provide training or job advancement to the employee
At the same time, employers also have rights under the FMLA. They have a right to request that employees submit a medical certification supporting their right to leave. For example, suppose an employee is requesting FMLA time off to recover from surgery. In that case, the employer can request a medical certification from the employee’s doctor stating that the employee is having surgery. Employees also have an obligation to notify their employers as soon as practicable of their need to take FMLA leave.
How Do I File an FMLA Lawsuit?
The FMLA gives an employee whose rights under the FMLA violated the right to pursue a claim for compensatory damages like emotional distress and punitive damages. The employee will need to show that they have had some type of tangible loss, such as a loss and income from being terminated or loss of employment benefits from being retaliated against.
An experienced attorney can help you determine whether you have a valid legal claim and the amount of damages to which you may be entitled. You do not have to file a claim with the EEOC before pursuing a lawsuit for an FMLA violation. You can file a lawsuit in federal court immediately after being terminated from your job.
New York’s Paid Family Leave Policy
In addition to the FMLA, New York employees have the right to take leave under New York’s Paid Family Leave law. The Paid Family Leave law provides qualifying employees job-protected, paid time off for the following reasons:
- Bonding with a newborn fostered or adopted child
- Caring for a family member with a serious health condition, or
- Assisting a loved one when a spouse, domestic partner, parent, or child is deployed abroad on active military service
When the legislature passed the Paid Family Leave Act, they included a phased rollout over four years. All private employers in New York state are required to offer paid family leave. Employees are guaranteed job protection and continuation of their health insurance benefits while on paid family leave. Employers must give employees a choice to take Paid Family Leave or sick leave.
However, they cannot require employees to use all their sick leave and vacation time before using paid family leave. They can require an employee to use their sick or vacation leave for full pay, but they cannot require the employee to take leave time. The Paid Family Leave program is new; if you have questions about it, discussing the program with an attorney can be helpful.
Discuss Your Case with a Skilled FMLA Attorney in New York
If you have a serious medical illness, your family member has a medical illness, or you have adopted a child, given birth, or are taking care of a close family member, you may have rights to paid or unpaid leave in New York state. Contact the New Paltz, New York, employment attorneys at HKM Employment Attorneys to schedule an initial consultation.