When one of your family members has an illness or an injury, it can leave you with no choice but to take time off work. Concern for your job security is normal under these circumstances. You should know that under the Family and Medical Leave Act, employees have the right to take unpaid leave to care for close relatives. If you have been fired after exercising this right, you should talk to a wrongful termination lawyer in Jackson County, Missouri.

Can You Be Fired for Taking Time Off to Care for Sick Relatives?

Not in most situations. FMLA (the Family and Medical Leave Act) allows employees to take up to 12 weeks off if they need to devote their time to a sick relative. It recognizes that if your loved one has a serious condition, you might need to watch over them at home, drive them to appointments, and help them in other ways that take you away from work. If your employer violates FMLA, you might have grounds for a wrongful termination claim.

Wrongful Termination vs. At-Will Employment

One reason many people are afraid of being fired for exercising their FMLA rights is the fact that Missouri is an at-will employment state. That means that in Missouri, employers are allowed to terminate an employee at any time, for no reason. However, firing is illegal if it is done in violation of employment laws designed to protect the employees.  

Illegal reasons to fire someone include:

  • Discrimination
  • Refusal to take part in illegal activities
  • Retaliation for speaking out against employer abuse
  • Taking time off for pregnancy
  • Breach of contract
  • Performing jury duty
  • Calling out violations of wage and hour laws
  • Exercising FMLA rights

Your Rights Under FMLA

How Much Time Off Does FMLA Allow?

FMLA specifies that employees make take up to 12 weeks off work to care for sick relatives. These weeks are unpaid unless you have a specific arrangement with your employer saying that you are entitled to compensation during your time off. However, your employer must continue to provide you with benefits while you are away.

Which Relatives Can Receive the Care?

FMLA applies to close relatives only. You can take time off to care for a spouse, child, or parent. Adopted children and foster children count as members of your immediate family and are included in your FMLA rights. You cannot claim FMLA rights to care for members of your extended family or siblings.

Where Does FMLA Apply?

All private companies who have more than 50 employees within 75 miles must comply with FMLA. Additionally, FMLA applies to all public agencies and schools at the elementary or secondary level.

Who Enjoys Protection Under FMLA?

To qualify for FMLA rights, you must work for your employer for at least 12 months. During that time, you must accrue at least 1,250 hours worked.

FMLA and Pregnancy

Under FMLA, mothers are allowed to take up to 12 weeks off to address health concerns related to birthing or pregnancy. The time can be divided between prenatal and postnatal care. Husbands can also take time off to care for their wives, especially if the pregnancy causes serious health conditions.

FMLA and Military Service

Employees have expanded rights under FMLA when caring for relatives who have been injured during military service. If you have a loved one who needs at-home care after serving, you are allowed to take up to 26 weeks off.

Are All Your Job Responsibilities Protected?

Yes. FMLA specifies that when you return to work, you must be allowed to resume all of your old job responsibilities at the same rate of pay you had when you left. If your employer cannot leave your position vacant, they must reinstate you in an equivalent role when you return. The only exception is for “key employees” who must be replaced immediately in order to avoid serious economic repercussions to the company.

What Is Employer Retaliation?

Employer retaliation is the practice of taking punitive action against employees for exercising their legal rights or refusing to do illegal activities. Firing someone for caring for sick relatives according to FMLA is a form of employer retaliation. It can take forms other than firing as well, such as reducing an employees work hours or assigning them to a lesser position. Employer retaliation is an illegal violation of state and federal laws.

Other Forms of Employer Retaliation

The law recognizes that employers might try to avoid regulations against employer retaliation by punishing employees in ways that do not directly affect their compensation. This could include giving a negative evaluation or providing a poor recommendation for the employee. Like firing and pay reduction, these forms of employer retaliation are prohibited.

Why Do Employers Retaliate?

In the case of caring for sick relatives, employers retaliate to create a hostile environment in which employees are afraid to take time off. Similarly, an employer might retaliate against someone who complains that they are not being paid the minimum wage or allowed to perform jury duty. Filing claims against employers who retaliate can provide employees with compensation and discourage the company from repeating this behavior against others.

What Should I Do if My Employer Retaliates in Violation of FMLA?

Speak With a Lawyer

FMLA only applies to companies with more than 50 employees. When you go up against a sizeable employer, you can be sure that they will have the resources to hire a strong legal team. By working with an experienced wrongful termination lawyer of your own, you will bring a stronger case and more negotiating power. Your lawyer can represent you if the case goes to trial, or they can negotiate for a high settlement offer if the case resolves outside court.

Follow Protocols Correctly

Getting compensated requires following correct legal protocols throughout the process, including filing your claim in a timely manner. In Missouri, the statute of limitations for FMLA claims is 2 years. Additionally, you must submit your case to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), for review. Your lawyer can help you go through all of the legal steps correctly to ensure that your case does not get thrown out for errors.

Speak With Your Lawyer About the Damages

There are several types of damages that merit compensation under FMLA. If your claim is successful, you could recover the wages you lost as a result of being fired and, potentially, “front wages”. Front wages are the pay you would have received if you had been allowed to continue in your position. In some cases, plaintiffs can even collect compensation for the long-term career effects of the firing, although this requires a very strong argument.

Other types of damages you might be able to collect include pain and suffering, which refers to the stress of dealing with employer retaliation, and punitive damages. Punitive damages are designed to punish your employer beyond your material loss. Employers might also be ordered to pay your legal fees.

Work With a Wrongful Termination Lawyer in Jackson County, Missouri

When employers retaliate, they believe they can take advantage of the position of power they hold over their employees. Working with a wrongful termination lawyer in Jackson County, Missouri can even the playing field. You have a right under FMLA to care for sick relatives by taking up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. If you feel that this right has been violated, contact Holman Schiavone, LLC, today!