FMLA Qualifying Rules
The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) gives qualifying employees the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year without worrying about losing their jobs. Covered employers must return eligible employees to the same or equivalent positions upon their return from FMLA leave and maintain employees’ health coverage during their absence.
Not all workers qualify for FMLA. Understanding what counts as a “covered employer” is key to determining whether the law applies to you. Keep reading to learn more about the requirements for the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Who Qualifies for FMLA in Tennessee?
Not all Tennessee employees are eligible for FMLA leave protections. FMLA requirements say that employees must:
- Work for a company covered by the FMLA – All public employers are subject to FMLA rules. This includes schools and local, state, and federal government agencies. As for private employers, only those who have employed 50 or more employees within the past 20 workweeks must follow FMLA regulations.
- Meet minimum employment and work requirements – FMLA guidelines state that employees must work for a covered employer for at least 1,250 hours over at least 12 months of employment. The employee’s months of employment do not have to be consecutive. Additionally, private employees must work at a location or within 75 miles of a site where their employer has 50 or more employees.
- Have a qualifying medical condition or family situation – Eligible employees may only take FMLA if they have a serious health condition, need to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition, are expecting or adopting a new child, or have active-duty military obligations.
What Are the Qualifying Conditions Allowed Under FMLA?
Per the FMLA, you are entitled to unpaid leave with job reinstatement privileges if:
- You have a serious medical condition – Under FMLA rules, a serious health condition necessitates inpatient care or “continuing treatment” from a health care provider.
- Your immediate family member has a serious medical condition – You are entitled to FMLA leave if you need to serve as a caregiver for an immediate family member with a serious medical condition, such as a spouse, child, or parent. The FMLA covers leave for the care of one’s own children or parents, but not in-laws.
- You are preparing for the birth or adoption of a new child – You are entitled to FMLA leave if you are pregnant, awaiting the birth of your child, or awaiting placement for an adopted or foster care child. Mothers can use 12 weeks of FMLA leave for prenatal care, childbirth, and pregnancy-related incapacities or serious health conditions. Fathers can use FMLA leave for the births of their children and to care for incapacitated spouses after delivery.
- You are caring for an infant or adopted child – In addition to preparing for the arrival of a new family member, the FMLA grants you the right to take leave to care for a newly born or adopted child.
- You or your immediate family member has a “qualifying exigency” – You are entitled to FMLA leave if you or your immediate family member is called to transition to active duty for the Armed Forces.
In addition to the federal FMLA leave rights, many Tennessee employees are also entitled to parental and pregnancy leave. Tennessee employers with 100 or more employees at one job site must provide qualifying employees with up to four months of unpaid leave for pregnancy, childbirth, nursing, or adoption.
What Happens If an Employee Is Not Eligible for FMLA?
If you work for a covered employer and notify them promptly, they cannot deny your request for FMLA leave. Your employer also cannot force you to disclose your medical condition. However, they can demand a medical certification including “sufficient medical facts” that establishes the seriousness of your condition, as long as they give you reasonable time to obtain it.
If you need time off for medical or family reasons but are not eligible for FMLA leave, talk to your employer about other options for taking leave. Depending on the company’s needs, some employers may allow you to take unpaid time off, use paid time off, or take short-term or long-term disability leave.
Can I Lose My Job for Taking FMLA Leave?
No. The FMLA was designed to protect employees’ job security, so your employer can’t use your need for FMLA leave as an excuse to fire you. Employers also cannot use an employee’s FMLA leave as a deciding factor in their continuing employment, promotion, or termination decisions. If you speak up about an FMLA violation, your employer cannot retaliate against you by firing or demoting you.
However, there are some exceptions. While an employer can’t deny you a scheduled bonus for taking FMLA leave, they also don’t have to count the time you spend on leave toward the accumulation of bonuses or job benefits. In some cases, employers also have the right to deny job reinstatement privileges to “key” employees, such as those who are salaried and highly compensated.
Can You Draw Unemployment While on FMLA in Tennessee?
Generally speaking, no. Your eligibility for unemployment benefits is based on your availability for work despite an inability to find suitable employment. If you take FMLA leave because you are unavailable for or unable to work, you are considered ineligible for unemployment benefits in Tennessee.
Filing an FMLA Claim
Most Tennessee employers know better than outright denying FMLA leave to a qualified worker or retaliating against an employee who exercises their rights. Unfortunately, some employers think they can get away with more subtle violations of the FMLA, such as:
- Taking disciplinary action or giving poor performance reviews for work you did not complete during your FMLA leave
- Reinstating you to a lesser position upon your return
- Terminating you for no cause before your FMLA leave period begins or because of work you did not complete during your absence
- Refusing to approve your request for FMLA leave or falsely insisting you do not qualify under FMLA
If you are wrongfully terminated, demoted, or retaliated against, you may be entitled to compensation for lost wages and other benefits related to your employer’s violation through an FMLA claim. An experienced employment attorney from the Employment and Consumer Law Group can help you prepare a strong claim and assert your legal rights.
Contact us today for a free consultation with a Nashville Family and Medical Leave Act lawyer.