Until relatively recently, workers who wanted to take time off to handle personal or family medical issues had to rely on their employer’s willingness to provide or authorize leave. However, in the early 1990s, Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, a law granting workers of certain employers the right to unpaid, job-protected leave for certain purposes. These include seeking treatment for serious medical conditions or caring for family members suffering from severe ailments.
But some employers refuse requests for leave or take adverse employment action against their employees for requesting or taking protected leave. If this has happened to you, turn to a Tallahassee FMLA lawyer from Cruz Law Firm, P.A., for help protecting your rights.
The attorneys at our firm have seen some of the most challenging employment matters over our decade in practice. We have earned ourselves a reputation for fighting tirelessly for our clients’ interests as long as needed — a reputation bolstered by the more than 100 cases we’ve taken to trial before juries at the state and federal levels. Our work in the courtroom has made us intimately familiar with the court system and how we can use it to our clients’ advantage. When you work with our firm, you can feel confident knowing that your attorneys have the knowledge and skill to fight for your rights, whether at the negotiating table or at trial.
Cruz Law could help you obtain FMLA leave from your employer or pursue financial recovery and legal relief if you were wrongly denied leave or retaliated against for taking leave. Contact us today for an initial claim review with a Tallahassee FMLA lawyer and get your questions answered.
What Is the FMLA?
The FMLA is a federal statute that grants eligible employees of covered employers unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons. Employees who take FMLA leave may return to work at the end of their leave without penalty. Although employers must provide workers with unpaid leave, they can require employees to use their accrued paid time off when taking FMLA leave. The law ensures that workers can address serious personal medical or family emergencies without worrying about losing their job and employment benefits for taking time off work.
The law also prohibits employers from retaliating against workers who inquire about or assert their rights under the law or request or take leave. Employees subjected to retaliation for exercising their FMLA rights may be entitled to pursue a claim against their employer for financial and legal relief.
What Are Common Reasons to Take FMLA Leave?
Permitted reasons for taking FMLA leave include the following:
Childbirth and caring for/bonding with a newborn
Adopting or fostering a new child
Caring for one’s own serious health issue or a family member’s serious health issue, including attending medical appointments or obtaining treatment for a chronic health condition, or taking time off for temporary incapacities such as morning sickness, multiple sclerosis flareups, or asthma attacks
An emergency arising from the fact that an employee’s spouse, child, or parent is a military servicemember on covered active duty
Caring for a spouse, parent, child, or next of kin in covered military service who suffers a serious injury or illness
How Can You Qualify for FMLA Leave?
Employees qualify for FMLA leave when they work for an employer with at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius of the eligible employee’s workplace. Employees may take FMLA leave once they have worked for their employer for at least 12 months and have worked at least 1,250 hours in the past 12 months.
What Are Eligible Employees Entitled to Under the FMLA?
Eligible employees may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period under the FMLA. However, they may take up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period to care for a family member in the military with a serious injury or illness.
During leave and upon returning to work, an employee’s rights under the FMLA include the following:
- The right to the same group health insurance benefits they had before leave
- Restoration to the same position, or, if the worker’s job is unavailable, another role substantially equal in responsibility, pay, and benefits
- Reinstatement of other employee benefits upon returning to work
Employers may not interfere with or deny an employee’s rights under the FMLA. Employers also may not retaliate against an employee who requests or takes FMLA leave. Examples of retaliatory acts include refusing a proper request for leave or taking adverse employment actions against a worker who requests or takes leave.
However, highly compensated employees — defined as those whose pay falls within the top 10 percent of their employer’s workers within a 75-mile radius of their workplace — have limited rights to return to their position following leave. Under FMLA, a highly compensated employee’s return to their position can be denied if the employer determines that doing so is “necessary to prevent substantial and grievous economic injury to the operations of the employer.”
Can an Employer Deny FMLA Leave?
A covered employer cannot deny an eligible employee’s proper request for FMLA leave. Employers can establish policies and procedures, including required forms or medical documentation, that employees must follow to request FMLA leave. But employers must grant all proper requests for leave from eligible employees. Employers cannot require employees to perform work while on approved FMLA leave.
Employers can deny requests for leave if:
- The employer is not a “covered employer,” meaning it has less than 50 employees who work within a 75-mile radius of the requesting employee’s workplace.
- The employee does not have the required service time with the employer to be eligible for FMLA leave, such as not having worked for the employer for at least 12 months or not having worked the required number of hours.
- The employer has exhausted their FMLA leave.
- The employee or their family member does not have a “serious medical condition” as defined by the FMLA, or the employee is requesting leave for another purpose not covered by the statute.
Can I Sue My Employer for Violating the FMLA?
You may be entitled to file a lawsuit against your employer under the FMLA if your employer:
- Denies a valid request for FMLA leave.
- Imposes improper requirements for an employee to request leave.
- Withholds health insurance during an employee’s leave.
- Requires the employee to do work during leave.
- Fails to restore other job benefits upon an employee’s return to work.
- Fails to reinstate an employee to their position or offer them a substantially similar position.
- Retaliates against an employee for requesting or taking FMLA leave, such as by taking adverse employment actions in promotions, pay, work assignments, performance review, discipline, or termination.
You can file a complaint alleging a violation of your FMLA rights with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. You can also file a lawsuit against your employer in federal court. You have two years from the date of your employer’s violation of your rights to file your FMLA lawsuit. However, you may have three years to file suit if your employer willfully violated your FMLA rights.
Types of Damages in an FMLA Lawsuit
Compensation and relief recoverable in an FMLA lawsuit against an employer include:
- Back pay, including wages/salary, tips, bonuses, and commissions that an employee loses between their employer’s adverse employment action and the resolution of the employee’s FMLA claim
- Front pay that an employee loses out on due to wrongful termination or loss of career opportunities
- Other financial losses incurred due to the denial of FMLA leave or employment benefits, such as health insurance coverage
- Injunctive relief against an employer, such as a court order requiring it to grant an employee’s request for leave or reinstating them to their former position
- Attorney’s fees and court costs
- Liquidated damages equal to the amount of back and front pay the employee received
How a Tallahassee Employment Lawyer Can Help in an FMLA Case
You might need to fully understand your rights under the FMLA, making it harder to take advantage of the benefits you are entitled to under the law. A Tallahassee employment lawyer from Cruz Law can help you understand your situation and advocate for your rights by:
- Meeting with you to review your situation and answer your FMLA-related questions.
- Communicating with your employer on your behalf to secure approval of your request for leave.
- Documenting your financial losses from your employer’s violation of your rights, such as denying leave or retaliating against you through demotion, denial of promotions or pay raises, or termination.
- Filing a complaint on your behalf with the U.S. Department of Labor.
- Taking your case to court to demand the compensation and accountability you deserve after your employer violates your rights.
Talk to an Experienced Tallahassee FMLA Attorney Today
Contact Cruz Law today for a confidential consultation with a knowledgeable Tallahassee FMLA attorney. We serve workers in Tallahassee, Jacksonville, and across the Florida Panhandle. We can review your case and discuss your legal rights under the FMLA. Let us fight to secure the leave you deserve or pursue accountability from your employer if it retaliates against you for taking or requesting leave.