How does the FMLA protect employees?


Question from BigMo: I worked in a competitive field that was constantly downsizing. Coworkers resented my absence through FMLA and made numerous comments about how they "were healthy" and should be retained instead of me because I had used my FMLA. How do laws actually combat this reality in the workplace?
Answers - Barbara Hoffman The FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) is a federal law that protects employees in businesses who have at least 50 workers. It requires the employer to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave. An employer cannot discriminate against an employee for exercising her rights under the FMLA. However, if an employer is downsizing anyway, an employee is not guaranteed a job just because she did exercise her rights under FMLA. So the problem is that here, without more information, it's unclear why an employer might fire you. The employer would need to justify firing you on a business-related issue totally different from you exercising your leave under the law.
Ruth Oratz, M.D., F.A.C.P. If I heard the question correctly, you are also concerned about the relationship with your co-workers, not only your employer. It is not at all uncommon for me to hear from my own patients similar stories, how co-workers can at times be resentful of the woman who has taken a medically and legally justified and legitimate leave of absence from work. It may mean that co-workers are doing more work than they were doing before. It's important on returning to work that you build those bridges and reconnect with colleagues in a way that is not confrontational, but allows both you and your co-workers to understand each others' feelings and point of view. So I'd recommend if there is an HR person at your place of work, or your employer or supervisor, you go to that person and ask for help in facilitating a team meeting to openly air these issues and discuss them together in a supportive environment. If you can't identify an obvious facilitator, then perhaps approaching the individual who seems to be disgruntled, again in a friendly and empathic way, understanding that although you are the person who suffered from this diagnosis and treatment, there were people around you who also suffered. Hopefully you can repair those misunderstandings, and move forward in a positive way so your co-workers can treat you in a supportive and helpful way.

On Wednesday, September 19, 2007, our Ask-the-Expert Online Conference was called Working During Treatment. Barbara Hoffman, J.D., Irene Card, and moderator Ruth Oratz, M.D., F.A.C.P. answered your questions about the legal, financial, physical, and emotional aspects of working during breast cancer treatment.

The materials presented in these conferences do not necessarily reflect the views of Breastcancer.org. A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before using any therapeutic product or regimen discussed. All readers should verify all information and data before employing any therapies described here.

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