A Bill to expand coverage of the Family and Medical Leave Act was recently introduced in Congress. Currently, the FMLA protects employees only if their employers have fifty or more employees within seventy-five miles of the workplace. If it passes, the proposed Family and Medical Leave Enhancement Act of 2014 would, among other things, lower that coverage threshold to employers with twenty-five or more employees, expanding the FMLA’s protections for many employees.
The FMLA generally provides up to twelve weeks of job-protected leave in a given twelve month period for a variety of circumstances, primarily involving a serious health condition of an employee or her family. It has significant limits though. The FMLA does not protect employees unless they have worked for the employer for at least twelve months, and have worked at least 1,250 hours over that time. As noted above, it also does not cover employees who work for employers with less than fifty employees. In fact, according to this new Bill’s sponsor, nearly 40% of Americans are not protected by the FMLA at all. Even if an employee is covered, FMLA protections run out after the employee uses up the twelve weeks of leave.
So what about the countless Ohio employees who are not covered by the FMLA, or whose FMLA leave has run out? Do they have any job protections if they or a family member has a medical issue requiring the employee to miss work? In many cases, yes.
The first place to turn for an Ohio employee who is not protected by the FMLA is the Ohio disability discrimination law and its federal counterpart, the Americans with Disabilities Act. If an employee meets the technical definition of having a disability, and needs medical leave beyond the FMLA’s twelve weeks, the disability discrimination laws may require additional leave as a reasonable accommodation. Although an employee is not entitled to additional leave to care for a family member with a disability, employers are not allowed to otherwise discriminate against or fire an employee because of the family member’s disability.
Another potential protection is the ban on pregnancy discrimination, found in both Ohio and federal law. The FMLA does allow leave for pregnancy and childbirth. If, however, the employee needs additional maternity leave beyond what the FMLA provides, the pregnancy discrimination laws might require the employer to provide it, depending on whether similar leaves are granted to non-pregnant employees..
As impactful as it would be for many Ohio employees facing the dual dilemmas of being sick and losing their jobs, I’m not holding my breath for this new Bill to pass. Unless and until it does, Ohio employees should look to other laws for protection when the need for medical leave arises and the FMLA is no help. Depending on an employee’s particular circumstances, a variety of Ohio and federal employment laws might provide some protection. For many employees though, the disability and pregnancy discrimination laws will be the most obvious places to turn.