If you are in need of a good, cynical laugh, read some blog posts from before the COVID-19 pandemic in which employees were lamenting their lack of work-life balance. These days, everyone is so overwhelmed that they cannot remember the last time they went to work in good health or stayed home sick. Work is a 24-7 gig, and so are family caregiving obligations, and only the wealthiest people have any free time in which to look after their own health. The fact that federal law gives workers the right to an unpaid leave of absence from work to undergo medical treatment or care for a sick family member or a newborn or newly adopted son or daughter is cold comfort, but it is unquestionably better when employers respect this right than when they do not.
No one would take an unpaid leave of absence from work if a paid leave of absence were available, but being temporarily without an income is much preferable to being without an income indefinitely. When employers deny employees’ requests for medical leave or family leave, or when they retaliate against them for exercising their right to family and medical leave, they are making the employee’s already vulnerable financial situation worse. The Philadelphia Family Medical Leave Act lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP can help you resolve disputes with your employer related to family leave or medical leave.
Your Rights Under the Family and Medical Leave Act
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) states that employees may take an unpaid leave of absence of work, with the leave of absence lasting up to 12 weeks, because of the employee’s medical condition or to act as a caregiver to a close family member. You can also use FMLA leave to care for your child who has just been born or adopted or who has just been placed in your care as a foster parent. If you are taking FMLA leave to care for a close family member who is serving in the Armed Forces and suffered injuries while on active duty, the FMLA leave can last somewhat longer than 12 weeks. In the context of FMLA, eligible family members include the spouse, child, and parent of an employee.
You are eligible to take FMLA leave if you have worked for the same employer for at least 12 months and if you have worked at least 1,250 hours in the past 12 months. Not all employers are required to provide FMLA leave, only employers that employ at least 50 workers within a 75-mile radius. This means that, if you work for a small business, your employer may not be required to provide FMLA leave.
FMLA Leave is a Legally Protected Activity
FMLA leave is unpaid leave, but it is job-protected leave. This means that, when you take FMLA leave, your employer does not have to pay you for the time that you were away from work. Your employer must, however, allow you to return to your same job at the same rate of pay after you finish your FMLA leave.
Federal employment laws consider requesting or taking FMLA leave a legally protected activity. This means that your employer cannot punish you for taking FMLA leave by taking adverse action against you. The following are examples of adverse actions:
- Reassigning you to new job duties, a different work location, or a different work schedule when you did not request such a transfer
- Subjecting you to excessive scrutiny at work
- Unfairly negative assessments of your work on formal performance reviews that play a role in promotion decisions
- Demoting you or reducing your pay
- Rejecting your application for a promotion or raise
- Termination of your employment or non-renewal of your employment contract
Other examples of legally protected activities include filing workers’ compensation claims, complaining about discrimination, requesting disability accommodation, and reporting misconduct in your workplace to regulators or to law enforcement. When employers take adverse actions against employees for requesting FMLA leave or engaging in other protected activities, this is employer retaliation. If you have been a target of retaliation after you requested FMLA leave or engaged in another protected activity, contact an employment lawyer.
Does Pennsylvania Have Paid Family and Medical Leave?
FMLA is a federal law, outlining the minimum family and medical leave that employers in all states must provide to their employees. States are free to enact laws that grant workers additional protections regarding family and medical leave. Pennsylvania does not have a statewide law that requires employers to provide paid leave to employees for medical or family caregiving reasons. Despite this, employers and employees are free to include paid leave in employment contracts. If your employment contract states that your employer will provide a certain amount of paid time off and then does not provide this paid leave when you request it, this is a breach of contract rather than a dispute over FMLA leave. However, it is still an important matter with which an employment lawyer can help.
What Happens After You Use Your FMLA Leave?
FMLA provides for 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a year; you can take these days of leave consecutively or intermittently. Next year, you will have the right to take another FMLA leave if you need one. If you need to be away from work for more than 12 weeks because of your medical needs, you should discuss matters with your employer. If your employer has provided you with short-term or long-term disability insurance, this could provide a financial cushion during an extended medical leave. If only certain aspects of your job present challenges because of your current state of health, you might be able to continue working if you can receive disability accommodations at work. Employers must provide reasonable accommodations to employees who need them and who provide appropriate documentation from their lawyers.
Contact HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP About Family and Medical Leave
The Philadelphia employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP can help you exercise your rights to family and medical leave. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to set up a consultation.