This month, the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) celebrates its 20th anniversary. Thanks to the FMLA, countless men and women have not had to make the choice between losing their jobs and attending to their families’ medical needs or their own. Unfortunately for many employees however, the FMLA does not cover everyone. And sometimes, a covered employee may exhaust his or her protected leave. In either case, other employment laws might provide additional job protection.
At the outset, new employees, part-time employees, and employees of smaller private companies are often not protected by the FMLA. That law only applies to employees who have been employed by the same employer for the past twelve months. To be eligible, employees must also have worked at least 1,250 hours over those past twelve months (with a very limited exception for airline flight crews). Regardless of length of employment or hours worked, employees of private companies with less than 50 employees are not protected by the FMLA at all.
Even when an employee is covered by the FMLA, the employee is entitled to only twelve weeks of protected leave in any given twelve month period. Many times, that amount of leave will be inadequate.
Employees who are not covered or who have exhausted their protected leave often believe they have no other options. That is not necessarily true. Several other Ohio and federal employment laws might help protect an employee who is not (or is no longer) protected by the FMLA.
The disability discrimination laws — the Americans with Disabilities Act, or its Ohio counterpart Revised Code 4112 — might protect the employee, even if the employee is not actually disabled, but is merely “regarded as” disabled by the employer. These laws might also apply if the individual with the disability is the employee’s spouse, child, or parent. If the employee is pregnant, Ohio and federal law provide protection from unlawful pregnancy discrimination. If the need for medical leave was caused by an on-the-job injury, there might be a claim for an employer intentional tort or workers’ compensation retaliation. Lastly, if the employer seems motivated by a desire to keep down group healthcare costs, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (or “ERISA”) might provide a claim.
While the FMLA provides critical job protection to many employees, it does not cover everyone in every situation. Luckily, other employment laws can help to keep employees from falling through the cracks at a time when they and their families are at their most vulnerable.