A Brief Overview of the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA")

The FMLA allows many, but not all, Arizona employees to take up to 12 weeks off, unpaid, for certain qualifying family and medical reasons. Pursuant to the FMLA, employees may take available leave for qualifying reasons without being subject to repercussions, including the loss of pay or termination of their employment. As with many such laws, however, there are many exceptions to the FMLA and many employees may not be covered by the protections of the FMLA.

For employee to be eligible for the protections of the FMLA, he or she must work for a company that employs at least 50 employees, or work for the federal, state or local government.  The Act also requires that employees have worked for their employer for at least 12 months for a total of 1,250 hours in order to be eligible for FMLA benefits.

Assuming FMLA benefits and protections are available, the Act allows employees to take time off to care for certain close family members or to deal with their own “serious health condition” that prevents the employee from performing his or her own job. Although the term “serious health condition” is somewhat loosely defined, many common illnesses will qualify.

It is illegal for employers to punish covered employees in any way for taking the legally-authorized time off. In addition, provided the employee returns within the allotted 12 weeks of family leave, the employee must be allowed to return to his or her prior job without repercussion or retaliation.

Of course certain exceptions  do apply. For example, “key employees," defined as those  at the upper levels of pay in the business, do not have to be reinstated if the employer can show that being required to do so would cause substantial and grievous economic injury to the business.

If you work for an Arizona company and you believe you are eligible for FMLA benefits you should make every effort to determine the eligibility well in advance and provide substantial notice to your employer of your intent to take the leave. In most cases you will be required to provide medical proof of eligibility and you should be prepared to submit to the employer's request for a second opinion. Employees should also be advised that the FMLA does not require that the employer pay for the time off and the employee may need to pay insurance premiums in order to ensure continued coverage.

If you believe your employer has failed to provide FMLA benefits for which you are eligible, or if you've been retaliated against in any way by an Arizona employer for taking advantage of your FMLA benefits, you should speak with an experienced Arizona employment lawyer to discuss your rights.