The Family and Medical Leave Act is a law that allows an employee to take time off from work to deal with family issues or medically related issues. The law is designed to protect a worker from being fired simply for taking time off from work. In some cases, an individual may be terminated from a job while on or immediately following FMLA. Although the Family and Medical Leave Act provides protection, the protection is not all-inclusive.
What FMLA Covers
The Family and Medical Leave Act is specific in what types of absences it covers. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, an employee is permitted to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a calendar year to care for a new baby, a recently adopted child or a newly fostered child, or to care for a sick spouse, parent or child. The FMLA also covers the employee if he becomes ill and is unable to perform the duties of his job. The law also provides up to 26 weeks of leave in a calendar year to care for a sick or injured family member who is a member of the Armed Forces.
There are exceptions to the Family and Medical Leave Act. In order to be covered, you must be employed by a company that is subject to the law. Some businesses may be exempt from FMLA if they have less than three full-time employees, if their payroll does not meet the minimum requirements, or if they are a nonprofit or agricultural organization. Also, if you have not been employed at a company for a minimum of 12 months, you may not be eligible for participation. In addition, you must first submit an application for FMLA with your company's Human Resources department.
As noted by the Rapid Learning Institute (see Reference section), there are certain instances where you can get fired while on FMLA leave. While the law protects you from being fired just because you have elected to exercise your right to take time off under FMLA, the law does not protect you from being fired for another reason. If you have failed to perform your job duties, if your position is terminated due to downsizing or if you have committed any type of offense that would normally lead to your firing, your position can still be legally terminated whether you are on FMLA leave or not.
When to Fight
If you believe you were fired because of your decision to take a family or medical leave, you do have the right to challenge the decision in court. You will need to prove that there was no valid reason for your job to be terminated. If you feel there may have been bias against you, you should speak with a lawyer to determine if you have a case.