The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides important protections and rights for employees needing to take extended leave from work due to serious medical conditions or to care for family members. However, many employees still face wrongful termination even while on approved FMLA leave.
If you lost your job after taking leave under the FMLA, you may have legal options. Read on to learn more about your rights under the FMLA and what to do if you were terminated while on FMLA leave.
What is the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)?
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that provides eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for certain family and medical reasons. These reasons include:
- The birth and care of a newborn child
- The placement and care of an adopted or foster child
- To care for an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent) with a serious health condition
- For the employee’s own serious health condition that makes them unable to work
To be eligible for FMLA leave, an employee must have worked for their employer for at least 12 months and completed at least 1,250 hours in the 12 months prior to taking leave. The FMLA only applies to employers with 50 or more employees within 75 miles.
What Rights Does FMLA Provide?
The FMLA provides important protections and rights to eligible employees. Some of the key rights under the FMLA include:
- 12 weeks of unpaid leave for family or medical reasons
- Continued health insurance benefits while on leave
- Job protection – entitled to return to the same or equivalent job
- Protection from retaliation for using FMLA leave
In addition to leave for new childbirth or adoption, the FMLA allows employees to take leave intermittently or by reducing their work schedule if medically necessary. For example, someone undergoing cancer treatments may take off a few hours per week for appointments.
The FMLA also includes provisions about employer notifications, medical certifications, and employee status reports during leave. Employees must comply with these requirements to receive FMLA protections.
Overall, the FMLA provides essential protections to allow workers to prioritize family and health needs without jeopardizing their employment status. However, as discussed below, some employers still find ways to terminate employees improperly while on FMLA leave.
What Constitutes Wrongful Termination under FMLA?
Wrongful termination refers to when an employee is fired illegally. Under the FMLA, there are two main ways an employer can wrongfully terminate an employee:
1. Terminating an employee for requesting or taking FMLA leave
It is illegal for an employer to terminate an employee for requesting or taking qualified FMLA leave. Even if the employee would have been terminated for other reasons, doing so shortly after they took leave can still be retaliation.
For example, if an employee was already on a performance improvement plan when they requested FMLA leave, terminating them shortly after their request could constitute wrongful termination.
2. Terminating an employee for taking more FMLA leave than the employer wanted to allow
The FMLA provides employees up to 12 weeks of leave per year. An employer cannot terminate an employee for taking the full 12 weeks they are entitled to, even if the employer wanted them to take less.
For instance, an employer may pressure an employee to return after 6 weeks. If they terminate the employee for taking the full 12 weeks allowed under FMLA, it is wrongful termination.
Is It Legal to Fire Someone on FMLA Leave?
In most cases, it is illegal for an employer to terminate an employee who is on approved FMLA leave. The FMLA provides job-protected leave, meaning the employee is entitled to return to their job – or an equivalent position – after taking leave.
However, there are some circumstances where an employer may terminate an employee on FMLA leave, including:
- The employee’s position was eliminated due to company layoffs or restructuring
- The employee’s worksite closed down while they were on leave
- The employee’s term employment ended while on leave
- The employee was terminated for reasons completely unrelated to their FMLA leave
In these cases, the termination would likely be deemed legal if the employer can show with clear evidence that the decision was unrelated to the employee’s FMLA leave and would have occurred regardless.
Other than these limited exceptions, firing an employee for requesting or taking FMLA leave – or taking any other adverse action in retaliation for FMLA leave – is unlawful.
How to Prove Wrongful Termination Under FMLA
If you believe you were wrongfully terminated in relation to FMLA leave, the first step is gathering evidence to build your case. Helpful evidence can include:
- Copies of your FMLA leave request forms
- Medical certifications provided to your employer
- Company communications about your leave
- Performance reviews demonstrating no prior issues
- Comparisons showing you were treated differently before leave
- Proof of inconsistent company policies or false accusations
- Testimony from coworkers about comments made by management
Next, show how the suspicious termination timing connects directly to your protected FMLA leave. For example, being fired right after requesting leave or immediately upon returning points to retaliation.
Finally, provide evidence that the employer’s stated reason for firing you was an excuse or pretext. For instance, if they claim it was due to poor performance but you received glowing reviews right before taking leave.
With the right documentation and analysis, an experienced FMLA attorney can help build a strong case for FMLA wrongful termination.
When to Talk to an Experienced FMLA Wrongful Termination Attorney
If you lost your job under questionable circumstances related to taking FMLA leave, consult with an experienced FMLA attorney right away to understand your options. An employment lawyer familiar with FMLA cases can help:
- Review the facts to identify potential legal issues
- Determine if you have a valid case for FMLA retaliation or wrongful termination
- Negotiate with your former employer to pursue a settlement
- File a wrongful termination lawsuit on your behalf if necessary
- Handle complicated FMLA litigation by leveraging prior case experience
Because FMLA cases often come down to interpreting specific facts and timelines, an attorney with specialized knowledge in this area is critical. They can also advise you on related claims involving disability, gender, or age discrimination if applicable.
Do not delay in contacting an FMLA lawyer for a free consultation after facing termination while on leave. Strict deadlines apply for taking legal action against an employer, so acting quickly preserves your rights. The right legal team can help recover lost wages, benefits, and other damages resulting from wrongful firing.
- The FMLA provides 12 weeks of job-protected leave for medical and family reasons
- It is illegal to terminate an employee for requesting or taking qualified FMLA leave
- Wrongful termination can occur shortly after leave is requested or taken
- Proof includes suspicious timing, direct retaliation, false reasons given
- An experienced attorney can advise and represent employees whose rights under the FMLA have been violated
The Family Medical Leave Act provides important protections for employees needing extended medical leave. However, some employers still wrongly terminate workers who exercise their FMLA rights.
If you lost your job under suspicious circumstances related to taking leave, do not hesitate to contact an experienced attorney. An FMLA lawyer can evaluate your situation, provide advice, and take action against wrongful termination if warranted. Standing up for your rights delivers justice and makes it less likely employers will violate the FMLA.