Family & Medical Leave Discrimination

The Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. §2601, et seq., applies to many Rhode Island employees.

The FMLA provides that eligible employees may take up to twelve (12) weeks of unpaid leave during any twelve-month period, for any of four (4) general reasons listed below. The Rhode Island Parental and Family Medical Leave Act, R.I.G.L. §28-48-1, et seq. permits employees up to thirteen (13) weeks of unpaid leave for a qualifying reason.

Eligible reasons to take a medical leave under the FMLA include the following:

  1. Birth and care of a newborn child;
  2. Adoption placement;
  3. Care for an immediate family member (i.e., spouse, parent, or child) with a serious health condition; or,
  4. Personal medical leave because the employee is unable to work due to a serious health condition.

In general, employers covered by the FMLA must have at least fifty (50) employees for at least twenty (20) weeks preceding the filing of a federal complaint, and must be engaged in commerce or in any industry affecting commerce. In order to be eligible for FMLA leave, an employee must have been employed by the employer for at least twelve (12) months and at least 1,250 hours during the twelve (12) months immediately preceding the leave. Further, the employee must work at a site where there are at least fifty (50) employees within seventy-five miles.

Generally, an employer may not interfere with any eligible employee’s FMLA rights. It is a violation of the FMLA to fail to notify or inform an employee of his or her FMLA rights once the employer has notice of any condition that may qualify the employee for leave. It is also a violation to deny an employee of properly requested leave, or to fail to reinstate the employee at the end of leave. Employees must be reinstated to the same or an equivalent position after returning from leave. Further, the employer is prohibited from retaliating against any employee for exercising his or her rights under the FMLA.

It is not necessary to file a charge of discrimination with any administrative agency before filing a federal lawsuit under the FMLA. However, a lawsuit must be filed within two (2) years of the unlawful act. If the employer has willfully violated the FMLA, an employee has three (3) years to file suit.

A successful plaintiff who sues his or her employer for a violation of the FMLA may be entitled to back pay, actual monetary loss sustained as a result of the violation, liquidated damages equal to the amount of money lost by the plaintiff, injunctive relief, and attorneys’ fees.

If you or someone you know believes you have been denied an FMLA medical leave or discriminated against for commencing a medical leave, please contact us to discuss your matter.

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