For many employers, one of the most important metrics for the reliability and usefulness of an employee is their attendance at work. Those who are habitually late for work or who consistently call in sick for minor reasons can leave the company struggling to cover their responsibilities. As a result, many employers have relatively stringent rules regarding requesting time off and the obligation to provide medical documentation for any impromptu missed days.
Still, no matter how diligent and responsible of a worker you are, the potential always exists for something to suddenly occur that demands your attention and time. Whether you yourself fall ill, a family member requires care because of an injury or you either have a child or adopt one, you deserve time at home to care for yourself and your family.
Thankfully, the federal government has rules in place that prohibit employers from penalizing otherwise responsible staff members who require time off due to medical issues or family obligations. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protects eligible employees by ensuring their right to take unpaid leave and return to their job.
When can someone qualify for time off under the FMLA?
You can’t just claim that someone in your family needs your help and take a couple of weeks off of work as a result. Instead, you need to have documentation that validates your request for FMLA leave and the relationship with the other party, if you need to provide someone with care.
Generally speaking, the FMLA protects workers who need up to 12 weeks’ worth of leave within a single year. Workers can use all of that leave for a single incident or can split it between multiple obligations.
Circumstances that qualify someone to take FMLA leave include:
- the birth of a child
- the adoption of a child
- foster care placement
- health issues affecting a spouse, child or parent who requires care
- illness on the part of an employee that leaves them unable to work
Military members also qualify for additional leave, up to 26 weeks, and any family member who provides care or support for them also receives additional FMLA leave.
Your employer should not retaliate against you for requesting leave
Two of the most important provisions of the FMLA are the ability to retain your health benefits as though you were still working full-time even while you are on leave and the requirement that your employer keep your position open and available and not penalize you for requesting legally allowable time off.
Unfortunately, some companies will still use requested leave as an excuse to demote someone or to begin termination proceedings against them. In the event that you face serious retaliation efforts by your employer because of an unpaid leave request, you can hold them accountable for violating your rights under federal law.