Dealing with a serious illness in the family is a very stressful event. I did not really understand the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) until recently, and I think everyone should be familiar with it. This law helps ensure that no worker is forced to choose between a job and his or her health or family’s needs.
In general, if you work for a business with 50 or more employees and have worked with their for at least a year, then the FMLA requires them to allow you up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave within a 12-month period in the following situations:
- to care for a new child, whether for the birth of a son or daughter, or for the adoption or placement of a child in foster care;
- to care for a seriously-ill family member (spouse, child or parent);
- to recover from a worker’s own serious illness;
- to care for an injured servicemember in the family; or
- to address qualifying exigencies arising out of a family member’s deployment.
This is in addition to whatever paid leave benefits your workplace may offer.
Individual states have enacted laws that reduce the minimum business size and also expand the definition of eligible family members, for example to include domestic partners or grandparents. The Wikipedia FMLA page offers a good summary.
Many employers will not volunteer this information to you, as it often puts them in uncomfortable and costly positions due to having to find temporary replacements and also holding your job for you. They may even put up resistance to it. Definitely read up on this law and know your rights.
If you feel you have experienced a violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act, you can file a complaint with the Department of Labor. Contacting a lawyer who works in that area would also be wise, especially if you seek damages.
What about health insurance benefits during unpaid leave?
Under the FMLA, an employer must maintain the employee’s existing level of coverage (including family or dependent coverage) under a group health plan during the period of FMLA leave, provided the employee pays his or her share of the premiums.