The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that was enacted to guarantee workers up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave from work and continued health benefits if they face certain covered medical or childcare obligations that temporarily prevent them from performing their job duties. Given that the FMLA is a federal law, it applies to a significant portion of employers and employees located in New Jersey.
To qualify for FMLA benefits, an employee must have worked for their employer for at least twelve months, whether consecutive or not; and must have worked for at least 1,250 hours during the twelve months immediately preceding the date on which their leave would commence.
The FMLA applies to all public employers, including federal, state, and local government agencies. It also applies to private employers that have had 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius, for at least 20 work-weeks during either the year in question or the previous year.
New Jersey has its own Family Leave Act that overlaps with the FMLA in some ways and differs in others. The New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA) extends the FMLA, which includes employees who are caring for sick parents, to also include employees caring for in-laws with serious health conditions. The NJFLA also expands the eligibility criteria for companies to include any company that has 50 employees anywhere in the world, not just within a 75-mile radius. The New Jersey Family Leave Act is more limited, however, in that it only provides for 12 weeks of leave within a 24-month span of time. The FMLA actually allows for 12 weeks of leave within a 12-month period.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA) guarantee a qualifying employee’s right to medical leave by requiring that an employer refrain from retaliating against, penalizing, or otherwise discouraging an employee from taking family or medical leave. The employer must maintain the employee’s health coverage during the leave, and it must restore the employee to their original or an equivalent job upon their return from leave. That means the employee is entitled to the same salary, benefits, and other employment terms. Use of family and medical leave cannot result in the loss of any employment benefits that the employee earned prior to the commencement of the leave.
In addition to the employer and employee eligibility requirements listed above, employees may only take advantage of their twelve weeks of unpaid leave if they experience a qualifying family or medical emergency. Courts have identified a number of events that may qualify for family and medical leave and the statute’s related protections.
The most common event that entitles an employee to leave is a serious health condition, suffered either by the employee or by someone in their immediate family (spouse, parent, child, etc.). A serious health condition is one that is more serious than the common cold, a flu, a headache, or the like—it must temporarily prevent the employee from performing their job duties. If the employee or their family member suffers from such a serious medical condition, the FMLA and NJFLA permit the employee to use protected leave to recover or provide care for up to twelve weeks. Similarly, a recent amendment to the FMLA provides for up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave for an employee to care for an active duty military servicemember who was injured on the job.
Other events also qualify for protection under FMLA and NJFLA. Employees may be entitled to leave over the course of their pregnancy, particularly when a doctor has placed the employee on bed rest or when the employee faces pregnancy-related complications. Parental leave after the birth of a child, including leave time for a mother or father to provide continuing care for the infant or for an incapacitated spouse after the pregnancy, can also qualify for unpaid leave. Finally, placement of an adopted or foster child in the home—including leave time prior to the placement or adoption that would enable the employee to attend counseling sessions, appear in court, or travel to another country to complete the adoption—has similarly qualified employees for family and medical leave coverage.
If you have been unfairly terminated or penalized after taking leave for an eligible family or medical situation in New Jersey, you may have grounds to pursue a claim against your employer. Call our knowledgeable New Jersey Family and Medical Leave Attorneys at Peterpaul & Kolbenschlag to find out if you may be able to get your job back, have your benefits reinstated, or obtain compensation for wrongful termination. We can examine your unique situation to determine your eligibility and advocate on your behalf throughout the legal process.
Given that violations of either law can be costly, any employer would be well-advised to consult a qualified New Jersey employment attorney to determine whether their current human resources policies are in compliance. The New Jersey Family and Medical Leave Attorneys at Peterpaul Law, LLP. provide assistance with ensuring employer compliance, drafting company manuals, and counsel regarding federal and state standards for employers in NJ. Call 732-455-8080 for more information.