Employers are compelled to grant up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to employees who qualify for protection under the Family and Medical Leave Act and have a condition that meets its standards. Should an employer not approve such a request, the first step is to determine on what grounds the denial took place and to determine if the decision was made in error. If denied FMLA unfairly, you may need a lawyer to help protect your rights.
Not every employee is eligible to take FMLA leave. Unless you've been at the company for 12 months and worked for at least 1,250 hours for the business over the most recent calendar year, you're not eligible. You also need to be at a work site where 50 or more workers are employed by the company within 75 miles of that location. Not all businesses are bound by FMLA statutes. If a company has employed fewer than 50 people for at least 20 workweeks over the current or past calendar year, it's too small to have to grant FMLA leave.
Clarify the Reasons
Just because you have a medical condition doesn't make it fall under FMLA guidelines. FMLA covers four basic areas: the birth or adoption of a child; caring for a spouse, child or parent with a serious health condition; qualifying exigent situations related to a military member in the family being called up to active duty; and a serious health condition that makes an employee unable to perform the essential function of her job. If your medical condition doesn't impair your ability to perform the job, for example, your employer can reasonably turn down an FMLA request made on this basis.
Though the regulations surrounding FMLA are complicated, it doesn't give employers much freedom to deny eligible employees leave for legitimate medical conditions. Sometimes, however, requests fall into a gray area. A condition like depression would be subject to FMLA protection if your medical practitioner makes the case that you can't perform your job without the requested treatment, but just its potential impact might not be enough. For example, FMLA doesn't protect employees who seek time off to care for a grandchild, but it does allow those protections for employees who also care for an ill daughter at the same time. In either case, you may need to clarify to your employer why your situation qualifies.
File an Appeal
Some companies may offer an appeal process or a chance to clarify information. If that's the case, follow the procedures specified by your human resources representative or documented in your employee handbook. If your employer offers you unpaid leave under one of its own programs instead, this might not offer you the job protection that FMLA does. The FMLA requires employers to allow you to return to work once the leave period ends, but your employer's program may not offer such guarantees.
Escalate the Complaint
If you think your leave request was denied unfairly, consider talking to a lawyer. Someone specializing in employment law is best equipped to navigate the murky waters of FMLA statutes and determine the best way forward. You can file an administrative complaint with the Department of Labor, which may take legal action against your employer to compel compliance if it determines you were denied FMLA unfairly. A lawyer can also negotiate a settlement of your claims or file a civil lawsuit for violations.
- Society for Human Resource Management: How to Approve or Deny the Request for FMLA Leave
- State of New Hampshire Department of Administrative Services: Frequently Asked Questions Concerning FMLA for Executive Branch Employees
- Disability Leave Law: Who Cares? An Employee Who Cares for Her Daughter and Grandchildren Cares Under the FMLA
- McGuireWoods: Court Rules Depressed Employee’s Vacation Request Does Not Qualify for FMLA Leave
- United States Department of Labor -- Wage and Hour Division: Fact Sheet #28 -- The Family and Medical Leave Act
- Nolo: Do You Have an FMLA Claim Against Your Employer?