A federal law known as the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (“FMLA”) was passed in order to ensure that every employee, regardless of their gender, was able to balance the demands of the workplace with the needs of their family and home life.
The FMLA requires that employers who have 50 employees or more must offer mandatory unpaid leave to employees who need time off in order to care for their sick family members or to help out with newborn children.
In other words, if you and your employer are covered by the FMLA, then its terms give you the right to provide the level of care necessary to take care of your family while still allowing you to maintain your job security.
Is Being Denied Leave by My Employer Considered Discrimination?
There are many factors that must be taken into account before the above question can be answered. For instance, according to the law, an employer is only required to provide certain types of leave and all of them are on an unpaid basis.
Benefits, such as paid vacation days, minor sick leave, and time off for local holidays, are all completely at the discretion of the employer. However, the employer must still refrain from engaging in discriminatory practices when granting such perks during the various types of leave.
As such, if an employer is denied leave to take care of a sick family member, then the situation might be viewed as discriminating against an individual’s familial status, which is illegal in a handful of states (e.g., Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, New York, etc.).
It is important to keep in mind that the terms of the FMLA are very strict. Thus, a person should check to make sure that they are covered by its conditions and may exercise its afforded rights before they make any requests for family or medical leave
What are Some of the FMLA Requirements?
As discussed above, it is important to review the provisions of the FMLA before asking an employer for time off to care for a family member to ensure they are actually covered by it. In general, some of the requirements of the FMLA include:
- Whether a person has worked for an employer for at least one year and that they have worked a minimum of 1,250 hours in the past year;
- If their employer employs at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius;
- The type of leave they are requesting (e.g., is it to care for a newborn child, their own personal health condition, or to care for a sick child, spouse, or parent?);
- If they have enough days left to be eligible to apply (i.e., only 12 weeks of time off per year are legally required of the employer); and
- Whether they have one of the top 10% salaries within the business or not.
If a person can answer yes to all of the above questions and their employer has still refused to grant their request for family and/or medical leave, then the employer is most likely in violation of the terms of the FMLA.
Thus, the next step the employee should take is to contact an employment lawyer as soon as possible, so they can help determine the employee’s options and how best to proceed with a claim.
What If I Do Not Meet Some of the FMLA Requirements?
Depending on the situation and which questions a person answers no to, they may still be able to bring a claim for family medical leave discrimination. In addition to the protections offered by the FMLA, the employee should also find out if their state or local laws provide supplemental regulations that go beyond what is stated under the terms of the FMLA.
For instance, sometimes employees who are not covered by the FMLA may be entitled to time off regardless because of certain circumstances, such as if their employer provides paid time off, company policies, union contract terms, state law, or other regulations like Workers’ Compensation or the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Additionally, the employee should also review their company’s employee handbook or their personnel policies, and should absolutely consult with an employment lawyer regarding the other protections that might be available in their jurisdiction.
Finally, it is important to remember to keep paper records of any incidents. For example, when requesting leave, be sure to put it in writing (like an email) and to preserve any copies of correspondence sent or received from superiors, as well as any medical documentation. This type of evidence can go a long way in supporting a claim.
How Should I Proceed If I Think I am Being Discriminated Against?
There are several options that a person may choose from in the event of a discrimination claim. For example, if an employee is also a union member, then they can contact their labor union official to check if they have any special union arrangements within the company or their union contract.
In addition, a worker should also file a complaint with their human resources department or their company’s internal grievance system.
It should be noted, however, that a human resources manager is more concerned about keeping the company safe than they are with an individual employee’s well-being, so proceed with caution.
Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer for Help with Family Medical Leave Discrimination Issues?
If you think you are covered by the FMLA and have been discriminated against, or if you are unsure of what rights you have, the easiest way to obtain accurate advice is to consult a local discrimination attorney.
An experienced employment attorney will be able to explain all of the minor differences between the federal law, your company’s policies, and the employment laws enacted in your state.
In addition, it may also be in your best interest to retain an attorney because this field is particularly difficult to navigate and is often full of overlapping statutes. Thus, hiring a good attorney can be essential for maximizing your rights and protecting your job.