Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), covered employers can’t deny leave to eligible employees when they need time off from work to care for their serious medical conditions or those of their close family members. As long as an eligible employee requests leave properly for a qualifying condition, their employer cannot deny their leave request or retaliate against them for taking leave. While this leave is unpaid, it is job-protected, which means that you must be returned to your previous position or to one that is substantially similar with the same rate of pay, benefits, and job duties. There are certain circumstances under which an employer can deny an employee’s FMLA leave request. Here is what you need to know about the denials of FMLA leave from the attorneys at Swartz Swidler.
Denials When an Employer Is not Covered
The FMLA doesn’t apply to all private-sector employers. Instead, it applies to private employers with at least 50 employees working within 75 miles of each other. It also applies to local, state, and federal government agencies. If your employer has fewer than 50 employees, it is not covered by the FMLA and does not have to grant your leave request even if you would otherwise qualify for leave.
Denials Based on Employee Ineligibility
Even if you work for a covered employer, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you qualify to take leave under the FMLA. The following criteria must be met before an employee will be eligible to take FMLA leave:
- Have been employed by your employer for a minimum of 12 months before you ask for leave
- Have worked a minimum of 1,250 hours for your employer within the last 12 months
If you haven’t worked for at least 12 months or have worked less than 1,250 hours during the last year before the date of your request, your employer can deny your request.
Denial Based on an Unqualified Reason for Leave
To take job-protected, unpaid leave under the FMLA, your need for leave must be for a qualifying reason. FMLA leave must be granted for the following purposes:
- Care for a newly born infant, newly adopted child, or newly placed foster care child
- Care for your serious health condition
- Care for your spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition
- Care for a family member who is a military service member with service-related injuries
- Prepare for an immediate family member’s active duty military deployment
If the reason for your leave doesn’t fall into one of these categories, your employer can deny your request.
Denial Based on an Unqualified Health Condition
To take leave under the FMLA, your health condition or that of your immediate family member must be considered to be a serious medical condition as defined by the FMLA. A qualifying condition is a physical or mental injury or illness that results in hospitalization or that requires ongoing treatment. Simply having a minor physical or mental condition might not be enough. Your employer can ask you to get a certification from the doctor of your need for leave. If you are asked to provide a medical certification, you must submit it to your employer within 15 days.
Rights Under the FMLA
The FMLA provides the following rights to eligible employees who work for covered employers:
- Right to take up to 12 weeks of leave in 12 months for a qualifying reason
- Leave is job-protected
- While leave is unpaid, employer-provided health insurance must continue during the leave
If you are eligible, work for a covered employer, and have a serious health condition or another qualifying reason to take leave under the FMLA, your employer can’t deny your request. It is also illegal for your employer to retaliate against you for taking FMLA leave.
If your employer retaliates against you, you might have a retaliation claim. You will need to show that you were engaged in protected activity under the FMLA, your employer subjected you to an adverse employment action, and there was a causal relationship between your employer’s adverse action against you and your FMLA leave. The employer will then have to show that it took the adverse action for a different and nondiscriminatory reason. If your employer meets that burden, you will then need to show that the reason provided was pretextual and that you wouldn’t have suffered the retaliatory action but for the fact that you took leave under the FMLA.
Interference With Your FMLA Rights Prohibited
Covered employers can’t interfere with an eligible employee’s FMLA rights or try to deny a valid request. If your employer interferes with your rights under the FMLA, you have the right to file a claim against your employer. You will need to show that you were entitled to take leave under the FMLA but were denied. Employers can’t try to justify a wrongful denial of leave by presenting evidence that it had a valid business reason for doing so.
Proving Your FMLA Denial Was Wrongful
To prevail on your claim for wrongful denial of your leave request or retaliation, you will have the burden of proof. You will need to present evidence proving your case by a preponderance of the evidence. To do so, you need to document everything when you request leave.
Document why you need to take leave as thoroughly as possible. For example, ask your doctor to provide you with a letter describing why your need for leave is important when you submit your request. Photocopy your request and your doctor’s letter. If your leave request is denied, ask your employer to provide a reason for its denial to you in writing.
Talk to Swartz Swidler
If your employer wrongfully denied your FMLA leave or retaliated against you for requesting or taking leave from work, you should talk to the experienced attorneys at Swartz Swidler. Call us today for a free case evaluation at 856-685-7420.