Life can change in a flash. Things are moving along and suddenly your child is in a serious accident, or you are diagnosed with an illness that requires extensive treatment. What do you do about your job? If you have worked for your employer longer than a year, you may have the right to take unpaid, job-protected leave when something like this happens. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Minnesota Parental Leave Act (MPLA) both require employers to provide leaves of absence to their employees if certain conditions are met. Better yet, the laws guarantee that when employees return to work they are guaranteed their previous job or an equivalent position that is comparable with respect to job duties, pay, and benefits. The provisions of the FMLA and MPLA are different, so it is important to know some key distinctions.
An employer must provide FMLA leave only if it has 50 or more employees. In that case, employees who meet the FMLA requirements have the right to take 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave during a 12-month period. Permitted reasons for taking leave are more generous under the FMLA than the MPLA. Under the FMLA, employees can take time off due to their own serious health condition or to care for their child, spouse, or parent with a serious health condition. Employees also have the right to take leave for the birth or care of their child, or if they are adopting a child or becoming a foster parent. Employers must continue to provide health insurance during leave.
MPLA leave is available to more workers because it applies to employers with 21 or more employees. However, it permits only 6 weeks of unpaid leave and leave is only available for more limited situations. The MPLA does not provide unpaid leave for serious health conditions, but it does give employees the right to use their personal sick-leave benefits to care for their relatives. Unpaid leave under the MPLA is only allowed for the birth or adoption of a child, and not foster care placement. If employees take leave under the MPLA, their employer must continue their health insurance coverage but the employee can be required to pay the full cost of the coverage, that is they can be required to pay the employer portion of the monthly premium.
Many employers will be covered by both laws and must comply with both of them. Regardless of the law that applies, it is illegal for employers to interfere with your protected rights. Employers cannot refuse to authorize qualified leave, nor can they retaliate against employees for taking leave. Retaliation can mean demoting, transferring, or terminating an employee, or even lowering an employee’s benefits or pay. If you believe your employer has violated these laws, you could be entitled to recover lost wages and benefits, your attorney fees and costs, and possibly a job reinstatement or promotion.
Let’s hope you’re never in a position to need leave under these laws, but if you do, it is important to know your options and to follow the requirements to be sure your rights are protected.