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2013 saw sharp increase in FMLA lawsuits

The Family Medical Leave Act is a protection workers throughout the nation rely upon to hold on to their job when life dictates that they spend time away from it to either care for a loved one, or deal with their own medical condition. The federal law provides 12 weeks each year for this. Depending on the state, additional time may be available as well. For example, in New York, additional time may be granted as a reasonable accommodation.

In addition to providing that time away from work, FMLA also makes it illegal for an employer to retaliate against that worker in any way, including: providing a bad evaluation, demoting the employee or terminating the employee because of the leave. When the time is not granted or a worker is retaliated against, it is possible that the worker will file a lawsuit against his or her employer.

Statistics provided by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, indicate that the number of such cases made a big jump from 2012 to 2013. The increase of 586 lawsuits, to 877, was the sharpest increase in employment related type claims.

While successful cases will not provide punitive damages, employees may seek compensation for how much it cost to care for the family member when leave was not granted, or up to twice the wages lost. In cases where someone’s job is terminated, that worker may seek to be reinstated either to his or her previous job or in the alternative, a job that provides benefits and pay that is equivalent.

The reason behind the increase is not clear though the director of the professional organization for HR managers, Society for Human Resource Management, indicated that the law fails to provide specifics about which serious health conditions qualify for leave and that it can be difficult for some employers to accommodate FMLA leaves. Whatever the reason, anyone who files such a claim likely does so with the assistance of an employment lawyer.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, “More Workers File Family-Leave Lawsuits,” Joe Palazzolo, Aug. 8, 2014

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