If you or a loved one get so sick that you can’t leave the house, you may need to take some time off. Sometimes you may need to take more time than you have remaining on your sick days. Maybe you can afford to go without pay for a while, but can you afford to lose your job?
Fortunately, you may not need to worry about your job. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) works to protect people in these—and similar—situations. While it doesn’t guarantee you paid leave, the FMLA may prevent your employer from taking adverse action against you because of your illness.
Using your FMLA rights
The FMLA doesn’t cover everyone, but it covers nearly all federal employees who have worked for at least one year. As the Department of Labor (DoL) notes, you must meet four requirements to qualify:
- Work for a covered employer. These include all government agencies, elementary and secondary schools.
- Your employer must have at least 50 employees within 75 miles of your job site.
- Work for your employer for at least 12 months prior to your leave request. These months need not be consecutive.
- Work at least 1,250 hours in the 12 months prior to your leave. This averages out to roughly 24 hours per week.
If you qualify, FMLA guarantees you at least 12 weeks leave to deal with covered events. Covered events generally mean injuries or illnesses which force you into the hospital or force you to stay home for three or more days. However, they may also include additions to your family, such as new babies and adopted children.
You can’t just disappear, though. Even for a covered event, you must:
- Communicate your request to your employer. You should make your request 30 days in advance of planned events like births, adoptions or major surgeries. When you need leave for an unplanned event or can’t schedule more than 30 days out, you should communicate your request as soon as possible.
- Provide your employer enough information to understand your request. The DoL doesn’t demand that you offer your diagnosis, but you might tell your employer that you received doctor’s orders to stay home for seven days.
Clear communication often makes things easier.
Your FMLA protections
When you use your FMLA leave correctly, the law affords you certain protections. Your employer cannot, as a result of your request:
- Interfere with your right to FMLA leave
- Reduce your duties, salary or responsibilities
- Change your schedule or relocate you
- Offer you fewer benefits
- Give you a negative performance review
Such actions may be construed as retaliation and serve as grounds for legal action.