Most employees or their family members face serious medical issues at some point in their lives. In some cases, these employees must take weeks or even months off to handle these issues, which can leave workers wondering if their jobs will be there when they come back.

Fortunately, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires employers to give covered employees time off to handle these matters. The FMLA also allows employees to take intermittent leave in smaller increments, even for partial workdays, so that employees can address their own serious health conditions or the serious health conditions of family members.

If your employer refuses to give you time off to handle a personal or family medical issue, you may be able to file a complaint or suit against him or her. A Family and Medical Leave Act lawyer in Charlotte can help you file a suit against your employer.

What Is the Family and Medical Leave Act?

The Family and Medical Leave Act allows employees to take unpaid leave from work for family and medical reasons without losing their jobs (and without cutting out their health insurance).

FMLA requires employers with at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius to allow certain employees to take 12 weeks of leave each year for the following circumstances:

  • Birth of a child
  • Caring for a newborn during the first year of his or her life
  • The adoption or fostering of a child
  • Caring for a newly placed child within one year of placement
  • Caring for spouse, child, or parent with serious medical conditions
  • A serious medical issue that affects the employee’s ability to perform
  • An emergency connected to an employee’s spouse, child, or parent on active military duty

A covered servicemember’s spouse may take 26 weeks of leave per year to care for the servicemember. The weeks do not have to be consecutive.

Is Everyone Eligible for Time Off Under FMLA?

Not everyone is eligible to take time off. You will not be able to take time off in your first year of employment.

In order to be eligible, you must have worked for your employer for a minimum of 12 months and have worked a minimum of 1,250 hours in the year leading up to the request for leave. You must also work at a location where the employer has a minimum of 50 employees within a 75-mile radius of your job site.  Even if your location does not employ 50 employees, the FMLA might still apply if your employer has other nearby work locations.

Once you have filed your request, the employer will then determine if you qualify for FMLA leave. If your employer denies FMLA leave, it must explain why you were ineligible. Some employers make it difficult for employees to take leave they are legally entitled to or outright deny this right. It is in these cases that employees should secure legal counsel to exercise their rights under the FMLA.

What Does the Law Consider an FMLA Violation?

Employers covered by the FMLA could be liable for a violation if they:

  • Refuse FMLA leave to any eligible employee
  • Require that an employee give too much advance notice
  • Fail to inform employees of their rights
  • Discourage an employee from using FMLA leave
  • Manipulate an employee’s hours to avoid granting FMLA leave
  • Retaliate against an employee for requesting or using FMLA leave
  • Count days missed under FMLA leave as excessive absences under a no-fault absence policy
  • Cut off employee’s health insurance during leave
  • Fail to reinstate the employee to former position (or position equivalent to former position) upon returning from leave

If an employer violates the terms of the FMLA or interferes with an employee’s use of FMLA leave, he or she has violated the employee’s rights. If this happens, the employee can take legal action against the employer.

What Can I Do If My Employer Violated My Rights Under the FMLA?

If your employer violated your right to medical leave, you can file a lawsuit. You have two years to file a suit (three years if the violation was willful). An FMLA violation claim must prove the employer violated the FMLA and, if applicable, may establish that it was a willful violation.

In order to file a successful lawsuit against your employer, you will need to prove:

  • That you notified your employer of your intent to take leave or that your employer knew you might be eligible for FMLA leave
  • That you were covered by the FMLA
  • That you suffered a negative consequence (e.g., firing, demotion, etc.)
  • That the negative consequence was the result of your use of FMLA leave

Building a case against your employer based on an FMLA violation can be challenging. Of course, your employer is going to argue that there was another, justified reason for the actions it took, aside from your leave. We use our decades of experience in employment law to compile the evidence necessary to establish the existence of the violation and then whether your employer acted willfully.

What Damages Can You Recover in an FMLA Lawsuit?

If you are successful in your FMLA case, the court may award you with the following forms of compensation:

  • Back pay. You can recover the wages and benefits you lost due to your employer’s actions.
  • Front pay. It is possible to recover future lost wages and benefits resulting from your employer’s wrongful actions.
  • Liquidated damages. These damages equal the amount of front and back pay awarded. The court may lower your amount if your employer can prove that it acted in good faith.
  • Reinstatement. You could get your job and position back.
  • Injunctive relief. If your employer wrongfully denied you FMLA leave, the court may order your employer to grant the time off.
  • Attorney fees and costs.

The FMLA provides many employees in the United States with the right to take care of themselves and their families without fear of losing their jobs. If your employer prevents you from exercising your rights under the FMLA, contact Gibbons Law Group, PLLC, to discuss your legal options.