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What are My Rights Under the Family and Medical Leave Act?

May 18th, 2021
FMLA Rights

There are certain times in life when a person may have to dedicate time away from work to tend to a serious illness or a family issue. When an employee experiences this, they will have many questions, especially with unexpected events, such as the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 is a federal law that sets regulations for qualified employers should an employee need extended time away for a medical or family emergency. The FMLA protects the employee’s rights and allows them unpaid leave and protection against losing their job. 

Each state may have their own laws regarding an employee’s job protection during medical or family leave. Pennsylvania solely has the FMLA to protect a worker’s rights in this situation. However, the FMLA has many qualifying conditions and requirements. Also, the process can get quite complicated for the employee, and violations of an employee’s rights do occur. Whenever an employee experiences hardships because of FMLA leave, it is recommended to seek proper guidance from a lawyer.

What are the FMLA Qualifications?

Only specific employers in Pennsylvania are covered under the FMLA, and there are specific qualifications for both the employer and employee. Employers must fall under the following conditions:

  • A business that has a staff of 50 or more employees for at least 20 weeks of the current or previous year. Employees must be within a 75-mile radius.
  • Any public agency or business.
  • Any public or private elementary and secondary school.
  • State and local government offices.

Under the FMLA, employers must allow an employee up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave every year should they need time away from work. An employee can request leave if they have been employed by their respective business or company for 12 months or more or have worked at least 1,250 hours in that 12-month span.    

When can I Apply the FMLA?

A qualified employee can request FMLA leave in case of certain health conditions or life events as long as their employer is covered as well. These eligible conditions for the employee include:

  • Any serious health condition or illness that requires a stay in a hospital or treatment from a medical facility and are unable to attend work for more than three days.
  • Any medical condition that needs to be continuously treated with several appointments and care or requiring treatment for at least twice annually. 
  • If an immediate family member has a serious health condition and requires continuous treatment or multiple appointments.
  • If the employee is pregnant and has any pregnancy-related illnesses or needs bedrest. The FMLA guidelines also allow up to 12 weeks after the birth or adoption of the child and if any related health conditions arise. The father can also use FMLA leave for care of the child or for the mother if she falls ill.
  • If an immediate family member is of military personnel and has suffered a military-related injury and requires care.   

How Much Leave Does the FMLA Allow?

When an employee qualifies for FMLA leave, they are allowed up to 12 weeks of leave during a 12-month span. After the 12-month period expires, the amount of leave renews to 12 weeks as long as the FMLA conditions are still met. The 12-week amount is not required to be used all at once, as the leave can be separated during different times of the year. For instance, an employee can split the 12-week period into separate parts when receiving chemotherapy or any other treatment.    

For employees who have an immediate family member in the military, they are allowed up to 26 weeks to care for them if they are injured. This 26-week yearly amount only applies to one family member and one injury; if the employee has multiple active service members in their family or a family member suffers another injury, there is no additional leave. 

Does the FMLA Cover COVID-19?

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans are required to risk exposure and can get sick in the process. If the employee’s conditions fall under FMLA guidelines and the employer is covered, then it might fall under normal FMLA parameters. Employers should keep their employees home if they have been sick or have been exposed to COVID-19 and should have accommodating policies for such an event.

What FMLA Rights Does an Employee Have?

If needing to be placed on FMLA leave, an employee should notify their supervisor or Human Resources (HR) department immediately and discuss what is the best accommodation for both parties. The employee may have to provide specific information to qualify, such as medical records or doctor notes, or fill out a form to receive consideration. Other documentation might be needed:

  • Date of beginning of illness or issue and if issue is expected to end.
  • Medical information, such as provider’s contact information, treatment plans, and symptoms. 
  • If there is no ability to work or if there are limitations.
  • How much of the 12-week leave is needed. 

The FMLA forbids any qualified employer from discriminating against any employee who needs to use the unpaid leave. Employers are also strictly forbidden from retaliating against any employee who uses FMLA leave.  Additionally, all qualified employers must notify their workers of their FMLA eligibility and rights every year. 

Employees are also entitled to receive their health coverage while on FMLA leave at the same cost as before they went on leave. When an employee’s leave ends or expires, they are entitled to their previous position or an equivalent position. If there is a needed training or licensing for the position and it expired during the leave, the employer must give ample opportunity to receive that licensing. 

If an employee is unable to return to their previous position because of the illness or injury they suffered that required FMLA leave and there is an increased health risk, then the employer must accommodate. However, if there are limitations, then the employee may be able to receive accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

The qualified employer may have an additional leave policy where the employee must use whatever amount of vacation or sick time they accumulated during their tenure, which may include paid sick or vacation time. 

What is Required in Pennsylvania?

There is no law in Pennsylvania that requires employers to provide medical leave for their employees, only the FMLA. If an employer does not meet FMLA qualifications, such as a small business, it is likely that they will have their own sick or medical leave policy. However, the city of Philadelphia does have a law for smaller businesses.

The Promoting Healthy Families and Workplaces law requires employers to provide unpaid or paid sick leave for their workers. If an employer has nine or less employees, they are required to provide unpaid sick leave. Businesses with 10 or more employees must provide paid sick leave. The amount of sick leave amounts to one hour per every 40 hours worked, for a maximum of 40 total sick leave hours. Federal or state employees and interns, as well as some other employees, are not eligible. 

It is quite possible that an employee’s FMLA rights are violated. It is also very possible that an employee loses their job because of their time away from work.  If at any time an employer is believed to have violated an employee’s FMLA rights, then the employee should contact a lawyer immediately. 

Philadelphia Employment Lawyers at The Gold Law Firm P.C. Help Protect the FMLA Rights of Employees

The FMLA allows employees to take the necessary time away from work to tend to an illness or to care for a family member. However, an employee’s FMLA rights can be easily violated if they are not careful. If you believe your employment rights have been dismissed or violated, then contact the Philadelphia employment lawyers at The Gold Law Firm P.C. right away. Call us at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we proudly serve clients throughout South Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania, including Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, and Montgomery County.

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