Mar 22 2021
Amanda DeMatteis: Hi, there. It’s Amanda DeMatteis.
Josh Goodbaum: Hi!
Amanda DeMatteis: I’m here with my partner Josh Goodbaum. We’re going to be talking to you today about the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Josh Goodbaum: So, Amanda, I thought that one of the ways we could talk about the substance of this – to make it more accessible to people – was to think about what’s a common scenario that comes into our office. So, one I thought of was the person who is, let’s call her Jane Smith, and she’s been at her job for a few years, and her boss is really starting to give her a hard time, she thinks unfairly. She’s starting to develop anxiety about it and she’s concerned that that anxiety is going to lead her to make a number of mistakes at work. So, she’s got this anxiety, she’s trying to figure out how to deal with her overbearing boss, and she’s not sure what to do now. Is that the sort of scenario that you often see?
Amanda DeMatteis: It is, yeah. Of course one of the first things we tell people to do is take care of themselves. So, we would tell Jane, “If you’re experiencing anxiety, you have to take care of yourself. Get to a doctor, get some medical treatment, and get yourself feeling better.” Another way to do that is to take some time away from the workplace, because if the boss, or the atmosphere, or the environment is contributing to this anxiety, sometimes the best thing to do is to get out of that environment. We’re able to do that, by having employees go out on protected medical leave pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act. Now a doctor has to okay this – we are not doctors, and we cannot authorize people to get out of work – but if Jane’s physician thinks she would benefit medically from cutting out of the workplace for a period of time, because of her own serious health condition, we can offer her some time away from work that is protected. Do you want to talk a bit about what that means?
Josh Goodbaum: Yeah, so protected in the context of the FMLA means that the job is going to be there waiting for you when you get back from this medical leave. In other words, the employer is not allowed to let you go because you didn’t show up for work. The idea being that people are not supposed to lose their jobs because they get sick. They’re supposed to be able to have time to get better on their own and then come back to their jobs or a substantially equivalent job. One thing I would tell Jane as well is the FMLA is unpaid. That means, if you’re not working, you’re not going to get paid your normal compensation, be it hourly or salary. But it’s important to understand you can use your PTO, you can use your vacation time. Many employers have short or long-term disability policies that might cover a leave. Some have PTO banks where other employees can donate to you PTO they’re not going to use. But there can be a compromise there. Some people are not in a position to go out of work and not get paid. We do have a situation in Connecticut fortunately where there has been a paid sick leave act passed by the legislature and that is coming into effect in the near future so that can also be helpful to employees who need to take a little bit of time off to take care of themselves.
Amanda DeMatteis: So it’s critical for employees to know that FMLA is job protection and a short-term disability or long-term disability policy if they have that available to them is that pay protection. But there are two distinctions there.
Josh Goodbaum: Right. So let’s say Jane goes out on a leave, and while she’s out on a leave, she hears that she has been fired. She’s been let go from her job while she’s on this protected FMLA leave. Now what?
Amanda DeMatteis: Well, it could be an interference with her rights that she is entitled to under the Family and Medical Leave Act. So, if Jane’s taking of her leave even in part motivated her employer’s decision to terminate her, during that leave, it could be actionable. She could have a lawsuit against her company. It could also be an interference with her rights. If she is otherwise entitled to that leave and her job interfered with that entitlement by not providing the full extent of her leave that her doctor thought she needed, that too could be a violation of the law, and she could have a lawsuit against the company for both interfering with her rights and/or retaliating against her for taking that protective leave.
Josh Goodbaum: So these are really important rights for workers to understand as they think about how to prioritize their own health and potentially their family’s health as well, because the FMLA covers not just the employee’s own serious health condition, but also the serious health condition of a family member. So if Jane, instead of having the anxiety situation, has a child with anxiety or a parent with anxiety whom she needs to care for and needs to take a leave related to providing that care, then the FMLA is an important resource.
Amanda DeMatteis: I also think it’s critical for people to know, Josh, that the anxiety does not need to originate because of work. You can get into a car accident outside of work, having absolutely nothing to do with the essential functions of your position and not be able to go to work for whatever reason. And that is a serious health condition you are suffering from, that would entitle you to FMLA leave. It doesn’t need to be work-related in order for you to get that leave, right?
Josh Goodbaum: That’s correct. So, hopefully, this provides some useful information to people. If you have questions about the FMLA or if you find yourself in a difficult situation where you think the FMLA might be useful, feel free to reach out to us. You can find us on our website at garrisonlaw.com.
Amanda DeMatteis: See you next time.
Josh Goodbaum: Thanks so much!