Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
As the demands and time commitments of jobs in any industry rise, women and men in Massachusetts face increasing challenges in balancing career and family. Many parents work full-time, yet want to play an active role in having and raising children. Plus, with Americans living longer, many people care for aging loved ones. Of course, your own personal medical issues can also arise at any time and affect your ability to focus on your job. Fortunately, both federal and Massachusetts law provide protections that can help alleviate some of the pressures of work and home life when you are faced with a medical event. Unless you fully understand the complicated legal landscape, however, you may not know your rights and how to address them.
Summary of the Family and Medical Leave Act
The Federal government enacted the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in 1993 to extend certain rights to eligible employees who need to leave work for qualifying reasons. The US Department of Labor’s (DOL) Wage and Hour Division is tasked with administering the law, issuing relevant regulations, and enforcing FMLA provisions. Generally, you are entitled to job protection and unpaid leave.
The key aspects of FMLA involve:
- Who is an eligible employee?
- What is a qualifying reason for taking leave from employment?
- Which employers must comply with FMLA?
Under the FMLA, qualified employees may take 12 work weeks of leave in a 12-month period. The leave may be intermittent—meaning that it does not all have to be taken at once. Note that the law does not require your employer to pay you during this time. FMLA safeguards your job and allows you to continue with group health insurance coverage provided by your employer under the same terms and conditions as if you had not been away from work. At the end of your leave, you are entitled to be restored to your job (or a similar job) at the same rate of pay.
Eligibility for Leave under FMLA
Not all employees are eligible to take leave under FMLA, and you must qualify under the law’s specific criteria:
- You must have worked for a covered employer for at least 12 months. Your employment does not have to be 12 consecutive months, but being away from your position for seven years or more causes the employment length to reset to zero months for the purpose of the FMLA.
- You must have worked a minimum of 1,250 hours during the relevant 12-month period before you take FMLA leave. Your “hours of service” are measured by the time you actually worked, not including vacations, sick days, holidays, or other situations where you were not acting in a work capacity.
- You must work for a qualifying employer. In the private sector, this means one that retains 50 or more employees, every working day of the preceding calendar year, within a 75-mile radius of the relevant location.
Qualifying Reasons to Take FMLA Leave
Even if you meet the relevant employment eligibility requirements, your purpose for taking leave must also be covered by FMLA regulations. Qualifying reasons include:
- The birth of a child and care for the infant during his or her first year;
- Circumstances surrounding adoption, including going through adoption placement and foster care, and to provide care for the child during his or her first year;
- A serious medical condition that prevents you from doing your job;
- Caring for your spouse, child, or parent who is suffering from a serious health condition; or,
- Certain circumstances that arise when a spouse, child, or parent leaves for covered active duty as a member of the military.
Note that you may qualify for more time off, up to 26 work weeks in one year, if you are caring for a member of the military who suffers from a serious injury or illness. For the military caregiver option, the person must be your spouse, child, parent, or you must be their next of kin.
There are some critical definitions involved with the qualifying reasons under FMLA and they can be very case-specific. For instance, if you request leave for your own medical reasons, you must have a “serious health condition” that makes it impossible to perform the essential tasks of your job. In addition, a recent DOL rule amends the definition of “spouse” to include individuals in legal, same-sex marriages. Because of the nuances of FMLA language, eligible reasons for taking leave can appear to be convoluted.
Family and Medical Leave Links & Resources
Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) – Home page for resources provided by the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor about FMLA.
FMLA – Resource provided by the Department of Labor explains the rights afforded to certain workers by the Family and Medical Leave Act as well as which employees are entitled to these benefits.
FMLA: Fact Sheets – Provides links to all the fact sheets relating to FMLA provided by the Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division.
Title 29 Subtitle B Chapter V Subchapter C Part 825 – This is the complete language of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993.
Elaws Family and Medical Leave Act Advisor – This is an online tool provided by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division which, by answering questions via links, helps to determine eligibility for FMLA.
FMLA Leave – Page provided by the Massachusetts government giving an overview of FMLA. Adds some additional detail on military-related situations.
Massachusetts Employee Rights Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) – Another webpage provided by the Massachusetts state government. This adds particularly helpful information on how FMLA applies in conjunction with the Massachusetts Maternity Leave Act..
- During the 2017 fiscal year, there were 1,165 complaints to the Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division. 50% of these claims were found to have been violations.
- 225 of these complaints were for refusal to grant FMLA leave.
- 122 of these complaints were for refusing to restore an individual returning from leave to an equivalent position.
- 493 of these complaints were due to termination resulting from taking FMLA leave.
- 11 of these complaints were due to failing to maintain health benefits for an individual on FMLA leave.
- 314 of these complaints were due to discrimination of an individual for taking FMLA leave.
- For the 586 complaints that were validated as violations from the 2017 fiscal year, there were 634 affected employees and $1,481,952 in back wages.
- 91% of employers stated that obeying the FMLA has had no negative effect on employee absenteeism, turnover and morale.
- 85% of employers relayed that they have no difficulty with following the rules stated in the FMLA.
- Almost 60% of employees qualify for benefits under the FMLA.
- 13% of workers reported taking FMLA leave in the past 12 months.
- Less than 2% of employers required to follow FMLA reported misapplication of FMLA.
- 42% of leave under FMLA is for 10 days or less and only 17% had a duration longer than 60 days.
- 48% of employees said they received the entirety of their pay while on FMLA and an additional 17% were given a portion of their pay.
- 78% of individuals returned to work because they no longer needed the leave. Another 40% returned to work due to an inability to afford continued leave.
- 5% of employees said that they needed to take leave but were unable to.
- Leave for the employees own medical issue made up 55% of the reasons for taking FMLA leave.
- Leave for pregnancy or a new child made up 21% of the reasons for taking FMLA leave.
- Leave for a medical issue of a relative made up 18% of the reasons for taking FMLA leave.
Massachusetts Laws on Extended Leave from Work
While Massachusetts employees are covered by FMLA, there is a state-specific law regarding maternity leave. The Massachusetts Maternity Leave Act (MMLA) requires employers to provide up to eight weeks of unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a child for mothers and fathers. The MMLA offers broader protection than FMLA regarding maternity leave because it applies to smaller employers with six or more workers. MMLA leave runs concurrently with FMLA leave.
Massachusetts employees may also be entitled to additional leave under the Small Necessities Leave Act (SNLA). The SNLA gives employees up to 24 hours of leave in a 12 month period to attend to the needs of a family member. For example, taking a couple of hours off to attend a parent-teacher conference, tour a nursing home for your ageing mother, or accompany your child to a routine medical appointment are protected under the SNLA. There are certain notice requirements, and an employer may require certification that you are using the time as you say you are. As with the FMLA and MMLA, an employer can be held liable for failing to follow the SNLA.
Take Action for an FMLA Violation
If you are an eligible employee with a qualifying reason for taking leave under FMLA, MMLA, or SNLA, and give proper notice as required by law, you do have rights in the event of a violation. Whether you were denied leave, disciplined for using it, or fired while you were away, your options may include:
- Reaching out to your employer, a manager, or human resource department to discuss your concerns;
- Filing an administrative complaint with the DOL;
- Mediation or alternative dispute resolution;
- Filing a lawsuit against your employer.
As potential remedies, you may be able to get your job back, retain insurance coverage, or other means of putting you in the same position as if you did not take leave. It may also be possible to seek monetary damages for back pay and other losses.
Consult with a Massachusetts Attorney Regarding Taking Leave under FMLA, MMLA, or SNLA
For more information on FMLA eligibility and other leave laws, please contact the Boston-based litigation law firm of Rodman Employment Law. Our lawyers have more than seven decades of combined experience in employment matters, and we are here to help. The attorneys at Rodman Employment Law have in-depth knowledge in the laws that provide you with certain rights if you need to take leave from work, and we have extensive experience in protecting them. Our team can explain the complex eligibility rules and prerequisites under the Family and Medical Leave Act and state law, and we assist with completing necessary paperwork. Please call (617) 820 5250 to reach our office to schedule a consultation.