Fix My Job: Benefits

What if I need a personal leave—but my boss says NO?

There comes a time at work when you just gotta get away. Get away for a good long time.

Maybe you are giving birth to or adopting a baby. Maybe you have a parent with a serious health condition. Maybe your son or daughter is an injured war vet.

Fortunately, Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in 1993. It allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks every year to attend to certain covered family matters, and 26 weeks to care for an immediate family member injured during military service.

The FMLA, passed following a spirited campaign by labor, family and workplace activists, means you may no longer lose your job if you simply must take a break for certain urgent personal reasons. But it’s not a magic bullet:

  • FMLA leave isn’t necessarily paid leave (that’s up to your employer, or what you and your co-workers can negotiate in a union contract.)
  • If you are a new employee, work too few hours a year, or your company has too few employees, you might not be eligible.
  • Not every employer follows the rules; according to a 2008 report  from the Families and Work Institute, one in five employers offers less than the required amount of leave. And sometimes a worker will come back from FMLA leave and find that their job has changed, or their benefits were cancelled, or they’ll get a bad evaluation as a result of taking leave.

Getting the family leave that you need.

If you’re an eligible employee with a legitimate, covered reason for the leave , the law is cut and dried: Your employer has to give you up to 12 unpaid weeks to attend to your health or family.

If your employer does not, check with your fellow employees: Have they also been denied leave? If you are going to ask management about an issue, it is more effective to do so as a group. In addition, you ordinarily have more legal protections  when there’s more than one of you voicing workplace concerns..

If the boss still won’t respect your legal rights, you can file a complaint  with the Department of Labor and/or seek legal representation. You can also take action if your employer:

  • tries to bully you into not taking leave;
  • doesn’t give you back your old (or an equivalent) job once you’re back from leave;
  • gives you a poor evaluation or denies you a promotion because of your leave;
  • retaliates against you for spreading the word about FMLA rights, complaining about FMLA violations or taking legal action to enforce the FMLA.

If your employer is too small (under 50 employees in the private sector) to be covered by FMLA, you can still try to convince management that granting leave is beneficial to its workers and to the bottom line. You can point out that small businesses that allow their employees to maintain a good work/life balance are better able to attract and retain top-performing employees.

If you feel you cannot afford an unpaid leave, you and your colleagues can advocate for a paidleave. There is no law requiring that your employer pony up, but:

  • 58 percent of U.S. employers offer at least some pay during maternity leave. (Only 14 percent pay for paternity leave.)
  • If you live in California, the state provides partial wage replacement  to eligible workers.
  • If you work in a unionized workplace, you and  your coworkers can negotiate paid leaves for new parents and family health obligations. Check with your union rep.

Useful Links

Fact Sheet:  A Union Reference Guide to the Family Medical Leave Act , AAUP-AFT.

Organization: “Celebrating 20 Years of Strengthening Families – The Family and Medical Leave Act Anniversary ” 9 to 5.

Article: “Do You Have an FMLA Claim Against Your Employer? ”

Article: “Employer Violation of FMLA ,”



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