Family and Medical Leave: Enforcement and Rights of Employees

From Page 1: Family and Medical Leave

With the passing of the FMLA, Congress attempted to prevent employers from denying workers the opportunity to take legally sanctioned leave.   In doing so, the FMLA requires employers to reinstate workers returning from FMLA leave into their previous position of employment or an equivalent at the same level of compensation and benefits.  For workers not returning to their employer after the twelve weeks of leave, the employer may recover benefits paid out during the leave. If you consider that your rights to FMLA leave were violated by an employer, the law requires you to file a complaint within two years or within a period of three years if the violation is deemed willful.  Employers violating FMLA laws face serious reprisal for their illegal actions, which can include punishments such as:

  • Reimbursement of all lost wages, benefits, and other compensation
  • Reimbursement of the cost of providing care for self, spouse, parent, or dependant during the twelve week period
  • Reimbursement of reasonable attorney fees and expert witness cost
  • Plus reimbursement of interest on these total figures

Clearly, employers face significant economic losses if found in violation of the FMLA or retaliating against employees taking leave under this act.  Currently, the Department of Labor oversees the implementation of the FMLA and checks into claims against employers. 

Differences in State Laws on Family Leave

Each individual state, and even city location, ascribes to very differing forms of protections, allowances, and provisions for employees seeking medical or family leave.  The best place for you to start finding out more about your rights concerning sick or family leave would be your company’s human resources representative, who should have a good grasp of all the applicable state and local laws affecting the conditions of your possible leave. 

Some states also allow interesting applications of state protections and federal protections for workers.  In essence, workers are allowed to choice state or federal protection based on which avenue present the most benefits to them.  In some states, workers can piggyback these two forms of protection into essentially double periods of protection per twelve months, although many states have actively sought to close this loophole.

Some of the many variations in state laws regarding medical and family leave will include items such as:

  • The enforcement methods of the laws
  • How rights between parents employed by the same company are shared
  • Whether or not a worker is guaranteed equal employment upon return from leave
  • The size of companies covered
  • The reason for the original leave request by an employee
  • What employees are actually covered by the protections
  • The length of leave time allowed
  • The time period of notice employees must offer to employers before taking leave
  • The length of continuation of benefits and at what parties’ expense

Specifically, some states intermingle anti-discrimination laws and the laws surrounding family and medical leave. Essentially, workers cannot be discriminated against dependent on the potential to require medical or family leave, such as the illegal practice of employers refusing to hire parents.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 is an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which makes illegal discrimination against employees or potential employees based on their pregnancy status or any other related medical condition to childbirth.  The protections cover all aspects of employment, including potential employees during the hiring process.  In essence, a pregnant women must be treated in the exact same manner as other employees.  For example, it is illegal for employers to require pregnant women to submit to special procedures in the workplace.  If an employee is pregnant and unable to perform certain job functions, the woman must now be treated as a disabled worker.  Likewise, pregnant women cannot be forced to pay a higher insurance premium or deductible than other employees, nor can their benefits be restricted based on pregnancy status.

Workers Covered by the PDA of 1978

Under Title VII of the PDA, the conditions of the act apply to all workplaces, which:

  • Possess fifteen or more employees more than twenty weeks annually
  • Engage in interstate commerce, including using emails, federal mail system, or telephone systems to conduct business

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act specifies that pregnant women and women recovering from an abortion must be treated as a temporarily disabled employee per the policies and precedents within a company for dealing with temporarily disabled employees.  The Act also bars mandatory maternity leave, and allows a woman to stay on the job as long as she is able to perform that job function. 

Flextime and Telecommuter Work Arrangements

Work at home arrangements is becoming more commonplace with the increased functionality and access of computers and modern internet applications.  This being said, any work from home arrangement should be made in writing before one begins this function.  Included in the agreement should be mentions of who is responsible for legal liabilities and how working hours will be measured.  The same prudent planning and recording of expectations, duties, and responsibilities should be explained in any flextime arrangement in writing as well. 

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