Family And Medical Leave Act Lawyer in Tennessee
The federal Family Medical and Leave Act (FMLA) is an important protection for workers who encounter certain personal challenges during the course of their employment. The law allows qualifying employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from work each year to handle these obligations.
Though Tennessee employers must follow FMLA guidelines, workers may be unaware of their rights and miss out on time off when they need it most. To make matters worse, employers do not always comply with the law and may penalize workers who take the leave they are legally entitled to.
If you’ve been denied FMLA leave or retaliated against by an employer, a Tennessee Family and Medical Leave Act lawyer can help. A FMLA lawyer can help ensure that you get the leave that you deserve and recover any losses that you may have suffered through FMLA violations.
Who is Eligible For FMLA In Tennessee?
Employees must meet certain general requirements to qualify for leave under FMLA. Workers must:
- Work for an employer with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius of the worksite.
- Have worked for the same employer for at least 12 months before taking the leave. These months do not have to be consecutive.
- Have worked a minimum of 1,250 hours for at least 12 months before the start of the time off. Hours of service refers to actual time worked. Days off, vacation time, and sick days are not considered actual work hours.
In addition, an employee’s request for FMLA leave must apply to specific life circumstances. These include:
- The birth or adoption of a child, or placement of a child in the employee’s foster care
- Suffering from a serious personal illness
- Caring for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition
Situations that arise due to a family member’s active duty or call to active duty in the Armed Forces, National Guard, or Reserves
It’s important to note that qualifying illnesses may be new diagnoses, an emergency medical situation that results in incapacitation for a period of time, or complications stemming from a chronic health condition.
In addition, your employer may require a medical certification to verify the health condition. They can pay (at their own expense) for a second or third opinion if they doubt the severity of the illness.
You should also know that FMLA leave is not granted to employees who need to care for in-laws. In those cases, the spouse would need to request time from their own employer (if possible).
Understanding Your FMLA Rights
Eligible employees have many rights under FMLA. These include the right to:
- Take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period
- Request FMLA leave every 12 months
- Break up the 12 weeks into intermittent blocks
- Receive the same health coverage the employer provided prior to taking the leave
- Retain the same employment position, or a substantially equal position, upon returning from FMLA leave
- Be protected from any type of employer retaliation after taking leave
- Military families may be eligible for up to 26 weeks of leave to care for family members who have sustained an injury or illness.
Although employers do have the right to request verification of health conditions and receive advanced notice of any foreseeable leave (e.g., the birth of a child), there are also certain actions that are illegal. If you are unsure of whether you are receiving the protections you are entitled to from your employer, a Tennessee labor and employment lawyer can evaluate your case and determine if your FMLA rights have been violated.
Examples Of FMLA Violations
It is a violation of federal law for an employer to deny employees with family leave if they meet the eligibility requirements. Not all violations are obvious or recognized by employees.
An employer cannot:
- Attempt to persuade employees from taking leave: After hearing of the employee’s circumstances and verifying that they qualify under FMLA, employers must follow the proper procedures to prepare for the worker’s leave.
- Accuse the employee of not actually requiring leave: The Family and Medical Leave Act was designed to protect employees who need time off to handle legitimate family obligations. It is not OK to make workers feel guilty or threatened for taking it.
- Use their own discretion to determine if a condition qualifies for FMLA leave: Although certain verifications are allowable, employers should check the law before denying leave. FMLA regulations define a serious condition as any which requires at least 72 hours of consecutive leave. The condition must also require a minimum of two treatments by a healthcare professional. Even a bad case of the flu, strep throat, or a sinus infection could entitle you to FMLA leave.
- Share an employee’s medical information: An HR manager must be informed of the reason for the leave, but the information should not be shared with anyone else. An employer that tells other staff members of the employee’s condition, even out of sympathy, is in violation of FMLA regulations.
- Discipline employees for protected leave: Employers cannot fire workers for taking FMLA leave or count it against them as unexcused absences or while determining seniority.
- Fail to reinstate benefits: Workers can keep their group health coverage during their time off, but employers may suspend other benefits until they return. However, these benefits (e.g., life insurance) must be reinstated immediately upon the employee’s return.
- Demote employees during their absence: Workers must be restored to their former position or one with equivalent pay, benefits, and terms of employment.
The Family Medical and Leave Act allows some flexibility for employers to create their own policies regarding family leave. In addition, employers must post a notice informing workers of their FMLA rights. This can be done by physically posting a notice or sending an e-mail notification. FMLA guidelines also must be provided when the employee is hired (e.g., a new hire handbook).
How to Request Family Leave
Follow these steps to request FMLA leave from your employer:
- Provide proper notice: Notify your employer within 30 days of any planned absences, (e.g., childbirth, surgery, etc.). For absences needing to start within less than a month, provide notification as soon as you know or on the next business day.
- Give a general description of the reason for the leave: Although you’re not required to provide an official diagnosis of a health condition, you must provide enough information that allows the employer to determine if the reason qualifies for FMLA leave. You should be notified of whether the leave is approved within 5 days.
- Comply with certification requests promptly: You have 15 calendar days to obtain any certifications that your employer requires.
- Follow the recertification process: Your employer has the right to request recertification during your leave. Generally, they may only ask for medical recertification every 30 days.
Keep in mind that other medical leave laws may protect you if you have exhausted your sick leave or do not qualify for time off under FMLA. If you’re unsure of whether you have options beyond FMLA leave, the Nashville attorneys at the Employment and Consumer Law Group can explore your options during a free case review.
Can You Get Paid Time Off in Tennessee?
FMLA leave is unpaid. However, employees that have accrued paid leave, such as sick days or vacation time, can ask their employer to use that during their FMLA leave. Some employers may even require that employees take this pay during family leave.
When an employer offers paternity or maternity benefits, parental benefits, or disability insurance, this can also be used to get paid for your FMLA leave.
Tennessee Family Leave Act
Tennessee has its own parental leave law to provide job protections for growing families. Employers who employ 100 or more full-time workers must provide up to four months of leave for pregnancy, adoption, childbirth, and nursing. To qualify, employees must:
- Have worked for the employer for 12 months
- Given three months advance notice (except in emergency cases)
Tennessee employers have the discretion to provide paid or unpaid family leave, and both men and women can request parental leave.
When To Contact A Tennessee FMLA Lawyer
The Family and Medical Leave Act gives employees the time to take care of personal and medical challenges without losing their job security. In the best situations, employers give their workers the leave they qualify for and welcome them back when that leave is over. When that doesn’t happen, workers may need to call a FMLA lawyer to help handle the situation.
You should contact an experienced employment attorney if:
- Your employer has denied FMLA leave that you qualify for: If you believe your employer has made in error in determining your eligibility for FMLA or has denied it outright, a knowledgeable employment lawyer can help enforce your rights.
- You’re being asked to work while on leave: Employers should limit their work-related calls and emails to you while you’re on leave. However, they can contact you to request updates on your situation and discuss your return date.
- Your wages were reduced when you came back: Sometimes employers retaliate against their workers by paying them less upon their return. If you experienced a pay reduction after taking leave, a lawyer can help correct the situation for you.
- You weren’t provided the accommodations you need: If you return to work but need accommodations to help with an acquired disability, your employer is required to provide it for you. The is not a right granted under FMLA, but is required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The only time an employer can refuse to make these accommodations is when doing so would place them under undue hardship.
- You were demoted: An employer cannot remove you from your position into a lower one, or a job that does not match your skills. A trusted labor lawyer can help you get your rightful position back.
- You lost a promotion: If you were on track for a promotion before taking leave and have been told you’re no longer qualified, your rights may have been violated.
- You were fired: It’s illegal to fire an employee for needing to take FMLA leave. If you’ve been wrongfully terminated, you need to speak to a lawyer right away.
When employers violate the FMLA, you can file a lawsuit against them to get your job reinstated or, when that is not possible, to claim compensation for any losses you sustained.
Depending on the circumstances, you could be entitled to:
- Lost back pay (including benefits)
- Lost front pay (including benefits)
- Liquidated damages (awarded unless the employer can prove it acted in good faith)
You have two years from the date of the FMLA violation to file a claim in federal court. If the violation was willful, the deadline is extended to three years. It’s important to contact an employment attorney before the time limit expires or you could lose your rights to compensation.
How The Employment And Consumer Law Group Can Help
Taking family or medical leave is a right given to qualifying workers and protected by law. If you have requested or have taken FMLA leave and feel as though your employer has acted unlawfully, let the Tennessee Family Medical Leave Act lawyers at the Employment and Consumer Law Group help. Our knowledgeable Nashville attorneys will hold your employer accountable for its wrongful actions.
Contact us online to schedule your free consultation today.