No one can predict what the future may hold. What will you do if you have a serious injury or illness or if your child, parent, or spouse is dealing with those same major health issues? How will you keep your job and take care of yourself and your family?
Injury and illness strike suddenly. Imagine waking up in a hospital room, or having the joy of the birth of a child cut short when you realize your baby has suffered a serious injury? In our work with families dealing with these traumatic events, the same question always comes up – “How can I keep a job and take significant time away from work?” If you’re suddenly unable to work or have an immediate family member who urgently needs care, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) can afford you valuable benefits and protections. It’s important to understand the basics of FMLA and how it applies to your situation, however, to make sure you understand its guidelines and are receiving the maximum benefit.
The FMLA was passed in 1993 at the federal level. Although state law may add to its provisions, the original law sets the minimum protections and rights for employees. Essentially, the act guarantees employees unpaid time off for family or medical reasons and ensures they will be able to return to comparable work and pay/benefits when they return. Before the FMLA, there was no legal protection for workers who, through no fault of their own, needed to take time away from work. Employers could (and did) terminate employees who had to miss significant time from work because of illness, childbirth, or other family and health-related reasons.
The FMLA applies to all public agencies and to private employers who have employed at least 50 workers for a minimum of twenty weeks in the preceding or current calendar year. It must be requested, and justification may be required. Among other reasons, employees may request FMLA to prepare for the birth of a child or care for a newborn, to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition, or in cases where the employee needs treatment for a serious health condition. Normally, FMLA is limited to no more than 12 weeks in a 12-month period.
It is important to note that FMLA is unpaid leave (you do retain benefits). However, if you or a family member are dealing with unexpected injury or serious illness, FMLA can provide a valuable lifeline to attend to your or a family member’s urgent care and treatment demands without jeopardizing your employment. The Department of Labor has more information on FMLA or you can talk to your company’s HR department for clarification.
If you or a family member are dealing with serious job-related or medically-related illness or injuries, you may want to consider speaking with an attorney to understand your full range of options.