There are numerous federal laws that protect employees in the United States. These statutes give workers a right to appropriate pay and overtime wages. They also protect workers from retaliation and other misconduct that might affect their employment.
When federal lawmakers recognize that there have been consistent abuses in certain areas of employment, they may enact new laws intended to protect employees. That is exactly what happened when Congress initially passed the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in 1993. The FMLA was a groundbreaking piece of legislation that created a rule against retaliation when workers require unpaid time off for certain circumstances.
The FMLA only applies to certain employees
Not every employee in the United States automatically has protection under the FMLA. The company that they work for needs to be large enough for the law to apply, and their work history also needs to be substantial. Generally speaking, companies need to have at least 50 workers for the FMLA to apply. The worker also needs to have worked for the company for at least one year and a total of 1,250 or more hours.
The FMLA applies in specific situations
Not every scenario automatically entitles a worker to FMLA leave. As the name implies, a worker must have a qualifying medical or family situation to take time off under the FMLA. The situations that may warrant FMLA leave include:
- a personal medical issue
- the birth of a child
- an adoption
- foster placement
- a need to provide medical support for a spouse, parent or child
The protections of the FMLA allow a worker with a qualifying employment arrangement and a qualifying personal situation to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from their job without retaliation. If they take leave to provide care for a loved one, they may qualify for up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave if that individual is a active-duty military servicemember.
Employers generally need to allow workers to take that time off and then allow them to return to the same position they held before or a comparable one. Employers should not penalize or retaliate against workers who make use of their FMLA leave rights. Generally, employees do need to provide documentation that shows their circumstances meet the standard established under federal law.
Violations of the FMLA can leave workers unemployed and struggling financially. Understanding the law is the first step toward making use of one’s basic employment rights.