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People's Law Guide


Family & Medical Leave Act: Protects Parents Caring For Ill & Disabled Children



      The Family & Medical Leave Act, also known by the abbreviation “FMLA”, is a relatively new federal law which provides America’s workers with broad protections when they or immediate family members confront serious health ailments. 

      Private sector employers with 50 or more workers within a 75 mile radius, and many governmental employers, are required to grant workers with unpaid leave.  Leave may last as long as 12 weeks or be taken at shorter intervals, such as missing work for one-half day each week.

      Workers may also take time-off to assist in the medical care of spouses, aging parents and children (whether young or grown).  The law also protects the employment rights of mothers and fathers who take time off from work to care for healthy newborn children.  To qualify for FMLA leave, employees must have been on the job for at least one year and have worked 1,250 or more hours within the prior 12 months.

      Penny Brannon of Jamestown, Tennessee, is among the persons who have been successful when suing employers for FMLA violations.  When missing work to care for her young daughter who had been suffering from severe flu-like symptoms, the garment worker was fired for exceeding her employer's permitted number of absences. Previously, the OshKosh B'Gosh factory worker had been absent from work for non-related reasons. 

      Brannon's employer tried to justify the firing by stating that her child’s ailment was not serious.  FMLA, the employer noted, was intended to offer leave time only when employees needed to care for "serious health conditions" they or immediate family members confronted. In fact, the Department of Labor's own FMLA guidelines exclude common flu and cold symptoms from FMLA protection.
      The judge hearing Brannon’s case ruled that her daughter, who had been treated by an emergency room physician, remained ill for more than three days, had been given prescription medication, did have ailment which  met FMLA requirements to be classified as a serious health condition.  The judge’s ruling noted that the law's terminology "may include more ailments than Congress intended the FMLA to cover."

      The Department of Labor’s FMLA regulations chose to avoid creating a master list of illnesses, ailments and conditions for which FMLA leave should be given. Further, FMLA rules specify that work leave must be granted for routine doctor visits for persons living with chronic illnesses.  People with asthma, severe allergies and others who may suffer from occasional "flare-ups" are entitled to FMLA leave, even when their treatments consist of home-based care without being seen by physicians.    Workers are permitted to file Federal lawsuits against employers who  violate their FMLA rights. Employees can seek full reimbursement for their lost wages. Employees who kept working after being wrongfully denied leave-time to care for ill relatives may seek reimbursement for the costs of hiring private nurses or other caretakers.

      FMLA further penalizes employers who are found to have acted in "bad-faith."  When sued, these employers can be required to pay workers twice the amount of their lost wages or other actual dollar losses.

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