The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows qualified employees to take time off for certain health and family reasons for 12 weeks and still have their employment position saved when they return to work. The FMLA is a federal statute, but New Jersey also has their version of FMLA called the New Jersey Family Leave Act.
Eligible employees can take off from work for up to 12 weeks over 12 months for several covered reasons:
- Recovery from serious health issues.
- Having a baby and wanting maternity or paternity leave.
- Help a family member prepare for entry into military service.
- Help a family member recover from a severe health issue.
- Provide care for a family member who was injured during military service.
An employer can ask their employee for documentation supporting the request for leave. The documentation could be a letter from a doctor explaining the need for leave or military service records.
Not every employee in New Jersey is eligible for FMLA leave. The law binds employers with 50 or more employees for at least 20 weeks over the preceding 12 months. Employees are eligible to receive FMLA leave if they meet the following criteria:
- Must have worked for the employer for 12 consecutive months.
- Must have worked at least 1,250 hours during the prior 12-month period.
- Employer has at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius.
These requirements are designed to protect some employers. Small employers would have a more challenging time adjusting to having employees leave for 12 weeks and hold their positions open. The program is primarily designed for large employers who have hundreds of employees.
Calculating the Amount of FMLA Leave
In New Jersey, employees can take up to 12 weeks of leave over 12 months. An employee can break up the 12 weeks into smaller pieces if necessary. The employee can also take the whole 12 weeks all at one time. For every 12 months, 12 weeks of total leave is reset, and another 12 weeks of leave is available for the coming year. This assumes that the employer and employee still meet the FMLA coverage requirements.
There is a separate category of leave for helping members of the military. Employees are allowed up to 26 weeks of FMLA leave over 12 months to care for active-duty military service members who are either ill or injured.
What Happens During the Leave Period?
The employee does not get paid under FMLA leave, however, there are other types of programs, and the employee can take advantage of those programs. The FMLA protects the employee’s job, which will remain available to the employee when they return. Another thing that is kept the same is health insurance coverage.
Employees can keep their health insurance coverage while out of work at the same pay rate. Once the employee returns to work, they are entitled to their old job or an equivalent position. The pay they are to receive when they return is to be the same or at a higher rate. The point is that they should not be punished for taking FMLA leave by receiving less pay when they return.
How Should You Notify Your Employer That You Need FMLA Leave?
Employees must give their employers 30 days’ notice that they will need FMLA leave. If the employer requests medical documentation and/or medical proof of the need to take off work, that documentation must be provided to the employer within 15 days of the date the leave will start. Despite these time requirements, there are provisions in the law dealing with unplanned emergencies and the need to take FMLA. You can take emergency FMLA leave, but you should inform your employer as soon as possible once the need arises.
Although most employers have formal FMLA request procedures, the law does not require such detailed reporting. When requesting time off, the employee does not have to explain why they are requesting time off. Also, the employee does not have to make a specific request for FMLA leave.
Employees merely have to give sufficient information to their employer that they will need to be off work for some time and generally why that is the case. Here are some examples that would be sufficient information:
- The employee has a medical condition that prevents them from physically performing their job duties.
- The employee is pregnant.
- The employee has been admitted to the hospital.
- If the employee is taking leave due to a family member in the military needing care.
- If a family member needs at-home care due to a medical condition.
- If the employee knows the anticipated date of how long they will be out of work.
Employers may require employees to have their doctors fill out pre-printed certification forms. The doctors will fill out these forms but do not release confidential medical information to the employer.
Can You Be Fired While on FMLA Leave?
You cannot be fired solely for taking FMLA leave. However, you can be fired while on FMLA leave, assuming that you would have been fired regardless of the FMLA leave. Your employer must have a legitimate reason for the termination that has nothing to do with the FMLA leave, such as:
- Poor performance can be a basis for the termination either during or after FMLA leave.
- If, before the leave begins, you failed to accomplish goals set before the leave.
- If valid reasons for termination come to the employer’s attention while you are on FMLA leave, then you can be terminated.
- If you engage in behavior while on leave that would justify termination, you can be fired.
You should understand that your actions while on FMLA leave could result in termination. FMLA does not shield employees from being terminated.
Cherry Hill Employment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Have Answers to Your FMLA Leave Questions
If you are having issues with your employer because of FMLA leave, speak with one of our experienced Cherry Hill employment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. We will fight for your rights if you have been denied FMLA leave. Call us at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Pennsauken, New Jersey and Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Cherry Hill, Haddonfield, Marlton, Moorestown, and Mount Laurel.