In addition to minimum wage, proper overtime compensation, and meal and rest breaks, eligible employees working for certain companies are also entitled to unpaid leave for specific family and medical reasons without fear of losing their job. They are also entitled to continue to be covered under group health insurance during that leave, under the same conditions as if they had not taken leave. These rights are guaranteed under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. This act promises eligible employees twelve workweeks of leave in a twelve-month period for:
• the birth of a child and to care for the baby in the first year of life;
• the arrival of an adopted or foster child;
• to care for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition;
• a serious health condition which prevents the employee from performing her job
• Any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that a spouse, child, or parent is a covered military member on “covered active duty”.
In addition, eligible employees are also entitled to twenty-six workweeks of leave during a twelve-month period to care for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness if the employee is the service member’s spouse, parent, child, or next of kin.
Many employees rely on these rights to take needed time off to deal with medical issues, whether their own or a family member’s, without fear of losing their jobs. However, many companies don’t want to hold the employee’s job for them and they often find ways of terminating the employee, although this is illegal. One such case recently arose when a dialysis nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital took an FMLA leave for a disability and later extended her FMLA leave for a non-occupational injury.
The nurse had worked as an acute hemodialysis nurse at the hospital for about five years before she took her leave. When she attempted to return to work by a certain date, which she and the hospital had previously agreed on, she was allegedly denied reinstatement. The blow came in the form of a phone call with her employer. This was all in spite of the fact that the plaintiff allegedly had written consent from her physician to return to work. Instead, the hospital allegedly gave her job to another nurse, despite the fact that they admitted that the nurse was “unqualified to perform dialysis” at the time that the plaintiff was seeking reinstatement in her job.
The nurse filed a lawsuit in 2010, alleging age and handicap discrimination and retaliation under the Family and Medical Leave Act. The case went to trial and the trial lasted for four days. The jury ruled in favor of the plaintiff and awarded her $1.24 million for front and back pay. The verdict is also subject to the statutory prejudgment and post judgment interest. In addition, the plaintiff is able to recover reasonable attorneys’ fees under the FMLA but can receive no monetary compensation for the emotional distress she must have suffered as a result of this ordeal.