What Are Employees’ Rights Under the Family and Medical Leave Act?

Florida workers should know the FMLA’s significant benefits

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantees qualified employees a certain minimum level of unpaid leave from work for childbirth, adoption, and serious family health problems. The FMLA requires qualified employees receive 12 weeks of unpaid leave and continuation of health care coverage as if they had not taken leave. The FMLA requires employers meet their obligations or potentially face civil lawsuits.

Who qualifies for the FMLA?

All public and government employees are covered by the FMLA. However, only private-sector businesses that employ 50 or more employees (during at least 20 weeks of the year) must offer leave under the FMLA. To be an eligible employee, that employee must work at a location where the employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles. The employee must have worked for the employer for at least 12 months, although it’s not necessary those months be consecutive. The employee must also have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months immediately preceding the leave—that amounts to working 40 hours a week over 31 weeks or 24 hours a week over 52 weeks.

What reasons entitle employees to leave?

Eligible employees may take up to 12 weeks of leave in a 12 months period for one of the following reasons:

  • The birth or adoption of a child
  • To care for a spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition
  • For a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform essential functions of their job
  • For any qualifying emergency that arises out of a child, spouse or parent serving on active duty in the military

Mothers and fathers are both entitled to birth or adoption leave. In the case of caring for a loved one, the employee must demonstrate they are necessary to providing care for the loved one, for example:

  • When the family member is unable to care for their own needs because of a serious health condition
  • When the family member needs transportation
  • To provide psychological comfort and reassurance to the family member

Employees must comply with their employer’s usual and customary requirements for requesting leave, and provide enough information for their employer to reasonably determine whether the FMLA may apply to the leave request. Employees generally must request leave 30 days in advance when the need for leave is foreseeable—or as soon as is possible under the circumstances. Employers can require employees use other accrued time off, such as vacation time or sick time, as a part of claiming their leave under the FMLA.

What happens if an employer interferes or denies required leave?

The FMLA prohibits employers from interfering with, restraining, or denying the exercise of, or the attempt to exercise, any FMLA right. Employers are prohibited from discriminating or retaliating against an employee or prospective employee for having exercised or attempted to exercise FMLA rights. Employers cannot discharge or in any way discriminate against any person, whether an employee or not, for opposing or complaining about any unlawful practice under the FMLA. Examples of prohibited conduct include:

  • Refusing to authorize FMLA leave for an eligible employee
  • Discouraging an employee from using FMLA leave
  • Manipulating an employee’s work hours to avoid responsibilities under the FMLA
  • Using an employee’s request for or use of FMLA leave as a negative factor in employment actions, such as hiring, promotions, or disciplinary actions
  • Counting FMLA leave under no fault attendance policies

Upon return from FMLA leave, the law requires an employee be restored to their original job—or to an equivalent job with equivalent pay, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) enforces the FMLA. If an employer interferes or denies an employee’s rights under the FMLA, the employee can file a complaint with the DOL. The DOL can levy fines or bring a lawsuit. The law also allows injured employees to bring a lawsuit on their own. If your FMLA rights have been denied or interfered with in any way, consult immediately with an experienced Florida employment attorney.

For more information about this area, see our overviews on employment law for employeeswrongful termination, and discrimination.

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