Leave from Work: Federal and State Laws
Our Firm has represented many clients dealing with questions regarding rights and obligations in the event of a request for leave from work for many different reasons, from family emergencies, to medical treatment, to military service. Rights and obligations regarding leave from work are often, but not always, spelled out in federal and state laws and court decisions interpreting the same. Our Firm has successfully handled many matters involving disputes about leave under federal and state laws. Hiring knowledgeable counsel like the attorneys at our Firm who understand the legal framework of federal and state leave laws and regulations is important for you to not only participate in and maintain a healthy and efficient work environment that complies with the law, but also to assert or protect your rights in the event of a complaint or dispute about leave rights and obligations.
The Family and Medical Leave Act
In 1993, Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) as a measure to accommodate the need for a more flexible workplace while protecting the legitimate interests of employers. It entitles eligible employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave—for up to twelve (12) weeks in a calendar year—“for medical reasons, for the birth or adoption of a child, and for the care of a child, spouse, or parent who has a serious health condition.” 29 U.S.C. § 2601(b)(2). While the FMLA does not guarantee paid leave, it does give employees the right to choose, and the employer the right to require, use of accrued paid leave in place of unpaid leave under certain circumstances.
Significantly, however, there are many eligibility requirements, as well as potential exclusions, under the FMLA. Most notably, the FMLA’s reach is limited insofar as it only applies to certain entities and employers. In general, the FMLA defines “employer” as a person or entity “who employs 50 or more employees for each working day during each of 20 or more calendar workweeks in the current or preceding calendar,” as well as certain public agencies. 29 U.S.C. § 2611(4). In addition, the FMLA defines “eligible employee” as “an employee who has been employed (i) for at least 12 months by the employer with respect to whom leave is requested; and (ii) for at least 1,250 hours of service with such employer during the previous 12-month period.” 29 U.S.C. § 2611(2)(A)(i)-(ii). There are many other requirements and exclusions that govern when, where, and how the FMLA might apply. Without the aid of legal counsel, it can be very difficult to assess whether the FMLA applies to you or your situation.
If the FMLA does apply, there are many aspects of the law and potential issues with which you should be familiar. When medically necessary, an employee may be entitled to take leave intermittently throughout the year—that is, not for one continuous period of leave. 29 U.S.C. § 2612(b). Moreover, eligible employees requesting or taking FMLA leave have protection from retaliation and discrimination in the workplace for using or taking such leave. The FMLA contains an anti-interference provision that prohibits an employer from “interfer[ing] with, restrain[ing], or deny[ing] the exercise of or the attempt to exercise, any right provided under [the FMLA].” 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(1). The FMLA also contains an anti-discrimination provision that prohibits an employer from “discharg[ing] or in any other manner discriminat[ing] against any individual for opposing any practice made unlawful by [the FMLA].” 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(2). While seemingly similar, there are many important differences between these types of claims. Nonetheless, the general message of the FMLA’s prohibitions is clear: “employers cannot use the taking of FMLA leave as a negative factor in employment actions, such as hiring, promotions or disciplinary actions.” 29 C.F.R. § 825.220(c).
In the event an employer is found liable for violating one of these FMLA provisions, an employee may recover “any wages, salary, employment benefits, or other compensation denied or lost to such employee by reason of the violation.” 29 U.S.C. § 2617(a)(1)(A)(i)(I). However, these are not the only types of damages available under the FMLA. If a plaintiff prevails, the FMLA also authorizes an award of liquidated damages in an amount equal to an employee’s lost wages, benefits, and other compensation (i.e., double damages) and an award of attorneys’ fees. 29 U.S.C. §§ 2617(a)(1)(A)(iii), 2617(a)(3). In short, monetary damages for violating the FMLA can be substantial. It is important to know your FMLA rights and obligations.
Unlike federal law and some other states, Missouri does not have a comprehensive family and medical leave law like the FMLA. While Missouri has a law regarding leave from work for purposes of voting (i.e., § 115.639 RSMo.) and a law providing protections for serving on jury duty (i.e., § 494.460 RSMo.), there are no Missouri laws on medical or family leave, vacation leave, holiday leave, or bereavement leave.
Even though Missouri does not have specific statutes on these types of leaves, courts have recognized that employers may still have to provide them under certain circumstances, such as where the employer has an established policy providing for the leave in question. Further, as noted above, certain Missouri businesses are still subject to the requirements of the FMLA based on their number of employees. We stay abreast of developments in Missouri court decisions in these regards, and have the knowledge and experience to counsel or represent you in connection with any claims, disputes, questions or concerns about leave-related matters.
To set up a consultation to discuss leave from work, please contact Dolley Law, LLC at (314)645-4100 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. All legal consultations are held strictly confidential.