You are torn. A family emergency has arisen and needs attention right away and, possibly, for a lengthy time. Taking unpaid leave from your work remains an option thanks to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This is the most reasonable option for you. However, you have concerns. You wonder, “Will I have a job when I return?” and “What will happen with my health benefits?”
The FMLA is on your side. This federal law allows eligible employees to annually take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave typically for family and medical emergencies. Employers know this, and they must abide by the critical elements in place that protect the people who take work-related leave through the FMLA.
Legal protections in place
Among the key provisions of the FMLA include:
- Employers legally cannot terminate anyone who takes leave due to the FMLA.
- Group health benefits remain in place during an employee’s leave.
- Upon returning to work, an employee will maintain the same position or a job of equivalent stature.
However, protections under the FMLA do have their limits. For example, employees are not protected from matters that would have arisen even if they had not taken leave via the FMLA. Such situations would include a reduction in work hours or an employer eliminating overtime hours and specific work shifts.
And employees who take leave via FMLA are not protected from termination if the employer already had plans in place for massive layoffs prior to the employee taking leave. In these circumstances, termination would have occurred whether or not the employee had taken FMLA leave.
Finally, employers can terminate a person who — prior to taking leave — consistently performed poorly on the job, often arrived late for work or was under criminal investigation.