Lawsuits Related to Family Medical Leave Act on the Rise

Lawsuits under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) are on the rise, as recently reported in the Wall Street Journal.

The FMLA law is a federal statute which allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for medical and family reasons. An employer is prohibited from taking any adverse employment actions against an employee based on his or her taking time off under the FMLA. Employees who claim they have suffered adverse employment actions based on their use of time off under the FMLA are filing lawsuits asking for promotions that were improperly withheld and reinstatement of back pay.

The attorneys who represent employee plaintiffs have taken advantage of the lower standards of proof in FMLA actions, as compared to other suits related to employment bias or discrimination. Under the FMLA, an employee plaintiff needs to show only that his employer interrupted his FMLA leave or otherwise coerced him from taking permissible leave. Fortunately for employers, there are no punitive damages available in an FMLA lawsuit.

The FMLA statute does not precisely define the types of conditions or circumstance that entitle an employee to take leave. Many employees use FMLA unpaid time away from work on an intermittent basis for routine illnesses that are generally not long-lasting or debilitating. Unscrupulous employees can abuse the FMLA, and surveys of human resource managers confirm that requests for leave are sometimes connected to very vague and suspicious reasons.

Given the increase in wrongful termination lawsuits pursuant to sec. 440.205, Florida Statutes, employers should be mindful of the potential for FMLA lawsuits. Florida attorneys who represent injured workers are exploring different types of lawsuits to file on behalf of injured employees. Compliance with the FMLA is not difficult, and all employers should be familiar with basic requirements of the law. Although the law applies only to employers with 50 or more employees, smaller employers who are able to comply with the FMLA would be safeguarded in doing so. As with all employment laws, equal and consistent application to all employees is crucial.

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