An Overview of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was originally passed in 1993, and is a federal law that requires covered employers to provide qualified employees with unpaid leave for approved medical reasons and family responsibilities. Not every employee or employer is entitled to take or provide FMLA leave. For an employee to be eligible, he or she must have worked at least 1,250 hours over the past year for an employer that has at least 50 employees working for it within a 75-mile radius during 20 or more workweeks in the preceding calendar year. Eligibility under this law is meant to be broad and inclusive, despite it being unpaid.

Common reasons for an employee taking the maximum 12 workweeks of leave during any 12-month period under the act include: 

  • Caring for a new child (adoption and foster care count) 
  • Caring for the serious medical condition of a family member, and
  • Caring for one’s own serious medical condition. 

Understanding Leave Requirements

The leave does not have to be taken in one block. As needed or “intermittent” leave for one’s own serious health condition or that of a family member to go to doctor’s appointments is common and must be provided. Employers must also provide employees enough information to understand that their situation could be covered by the FMLA in response to a request. 

Upon receipt of an FMLA application, the employer’s insurer (typically) decides as to whether the leave is covered and approved. Even if the leave is denied, the employer may still have to provide the leave under the Americans with Disabilities Act or Minnesota Human Rights Act’s [1] reasonable accommodation laws. Interference with an employee’s right to take FMLA leave he or she is entitled to is illegal. If you feel your right to leave has been interfered with, call us today. 

After a protected leave under the act, the employer must return the worker to the same or similar position that has substantially similar duties, responsibilities, and status—with the same pay and benefits. Like interference, retaliation after an FMLA leave is prohibited—even if the leave is disruptive to the company. Retaliatory conduct includes, but is not limited to: 

  • Undeserved poor performance reviews
  • Unwarranted discipline
  • Demotion
  • Cut in hours
  • Undesirable transfer or change in job duties
  • Belittlement or harassment
  • Unwarranted pressure not to take another leave
  • Termination

What Damages Could You Be Entitled To?

If a wrongfully terminated employee can prove their case, there are several significant damages they could be entitled to, such as:

  • Past and future wage and benefit loss
  • Emotional distress
  • Liquidated damages equal to the amount won
  • Punitive damages assessed

Attorneys’ fees and costs for winning cases also must be paid for by a losing company.   

#FightBack With Expert Legal Guidance Today

In these federal cases brought before federal judges appointed by the President, a lot is at stake. This is why it is important for you to call our expert attorneys if you feel like you’re being retaliated against for taking leave. Even if we are unable to take your case, we will provide you with important information to consider the next time you or a loved one need to take leave under these laws. We are excited to hear from you and will have your back during tough times.


[1] Minnesota has its own unpaid leave law called The Minnesota Pregnancy and Parental Leave Act. This act provides protection to Minnesota workers who need leave for a new child. 12 weeks of unpaid leave for employees who have been at the company for at least 12 months working at least half time or more must be provided. Employers who have 21 or more employees must provide this leave. 12 weeks is the maximum amount of leave provided for a 12-month period, even if the employee is eligible for leave under both the FMLA and this Minnesota law. Retaliation for taking leave is prohibited.

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Ross Stadheim

Early on in law school, Ross Stadheim discovered his true passion — the plaintiff side of employment law. Embracing a chance to make a meaningful difference, he never looked back. Before becoming a founding partner at MSB Employment Justice, Ross garnered over $29 million in settlements and verdicts for his clients over the past 10 years at his previous firm. See Full Bio

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