If you're having a baby, recovering from a surgery, or preparing your spouse for military leave, you may be covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). If you qualify, you can take up to 12 weeks unpaid leave in a 12-month period to care for your family – or yourself – and rest assured your job will be waiting for you when you return. As long as your company has 50 or more employees and you've worked at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months, you may be free to take off the time you need.
The problem is, many employees aren't aware of their rights under the law. And many companies won't make the effort to inform their employees of the law's guidelines. That means many workers aren't receiving the time off they need to focus on their families. Others may even lose their jobs since their employers thinks they can get around the law.
According to the California Department of Human Resources, there are 10 common FMLA violations employers make that have a considerable effect on the employees who work for them.
- Failure to notify employees of FMLA rights. Companies that are required by law to offer FMLA to their employees must share the guidelines and regulations. If you did not receive this information in your employee handbook, talk with your human resources department when considering taking FMLA leave.
- Failure to notify employee that leave counted toward 12-week FMLA entitlement. This is one of the biggest confusions about FMLA. If you have sick leave or vacation time, you must use it first before getting time off for FMLA. Any personal time off is counted toward the 12 weeks.
- Counting FMLA leave against the company's absentee policy for disciplinary purposes. If you are eligible for FMLA, you cannot be punished for taking those days off.
- Taking disciplinary action against an employee for using FMLA. Again, your company cannot demote you or take any other action that affects your employment if you take FMLA. Your employer must also allow you to maintain your healthcare benefits, although you may have to pay for the coverage.
- Failure to grant leave to provide care to a seriously ill patient. While FMLA is most often taken to recover from your own illness or your child's birth, it also allows you to care for and comfort a spouse, child or parent who is facing a serious illness. You need to concentrate on their needs at this time rather than worrying about work.
- Failure to reinstate an employee to the same or equivalent position. According to FMLA, your company is required to hold your job until you return. If it is no longer available, they must move you to similar position that offers the same pay and benefits as well as equivalent job duties.
- Terminating an employee during or after FMLA leave. According to the Department of Labor, around 1,500 employees are fired each year because they took advantage of the rights to which they're entitled.
- Failure to grant FMLA because of a misunderstanding of what qualifies as a “serious health condition”. What constitutes a serious condition in your doctor's eyes may seem frivolous to your employer. Legally, your company cannot ask you details about your condition, but prepare yourself medical certification as required.
- Failure to request medical certificate in writing and not giving an employee at least 15 days to obtain it. If they require it, your employer must provide you adequate time to secure a medical note from your healthcare provider.
- Failure to handle questions about the validity of a medical certification by guidelines set forth in FMLA regulations. If you provide sufficient certification from your medical doctor, your employer cannot ask for additional information or medical records.
Every year, thousands of employees are denied their right to take FMLA leave because of their employers' concern over the own bottom line instead of the law. It's important that every employee considering FMLA leave research FMLA guidelines and speak to their human resources department. Employees who are punished or terminated for taking leave should consult a FMLA attorney to protect their rights and their careers.