Colorado employees often face difficult decisions about balancing work hours against taking leave from work for illness, disability and the care of family members. Legal protections exist for employees to take certain types of family leave and medical leave but it can be tough to figure out when those legal protections exist. Colorado employees may struggle to figure out what qualifies for family medical leave in Colorado? Under federal and state employment law family and medical leave include specific categories of leave that include serious medical conditions and to provide care for specific family members. Adding to the complications of federal and state FMLA laws are other related laws that provide different legal protections for family leave and medical leave. If you are unsure whether your need for leave qualifies under employment law then you should talk to Colorado employment attorneys about your situation.
FMLA and Colorado FMLA
For most employees in Colorado family medical leave is available through the federal FMLA and state Colorado FMLA. FMLA is the Family and Medical Leave Act. The federal FMLA protects the right for employees to take up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave from work for specific family and medical reasons. The Colorado FMLA expands upon the leave protections of the federal employment law to extend additional reasons to workers. Assessing leave rights under both the federal and Colorado employment law requires a multistep analysis. Failure to qualify for FMLA or Colorado FMLA coverage may result in the employee not taking leave or taking leave without a legal right to return to work.
Reasons for FMLA and Colorado FMLA protected leave
Employees eligible for FMLA or Colorado FMLA protected leave may take leave for specific reasons enumerated in each statute. The federal FMLA is more limited in reasons but provides the basis for FMLA family and medical leave.
The federal FMLA permits leave for:
- The birth or care of a newborn child of the employee;
- Placement of a child for adoption or foster care with the employee;
- Medical leave because the employee is unable to work due to a serious health condition; or
- To provide care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition.
Federal law also extends FMLA to provide care for a military servicemember or veteran who has a service-related injury or illness or address a situation caused by the active service of an immediate family member.
The Colorado FMLA law—the Colorado Family Care Act—applies to all of the same reasons as the federal employment law but permits medical leave to provide care to a larger realm of family members. Let’s discuss the two most difficult issues in FMLA reasons for family medical leave: serious health condition and the family members covered by each statute.
Serious health conditions under FMLA and Colorado Family Care Act (CFCA)
A serious health condition for family medical leave involves “an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that involves: A. inpatient care in a hospital, hospice, or residential medical care facility; or B. continuing treatment by a health care provider.”
Health conditions described by FMLA regulations for family medical leave include:
- Incapacity due to pregnancy or childbirth;
- A chronic serious health condition;
- A permanent or long term health condition for which treatment may not be effective;
- Treatment for an injury;
- A condition that would result in incapacity of more than three consecutive days in the absence of medical intervention or treatment.
It is important to note that these definitions extend broadly to cover many health conditions but the employee’s entitlement to family medical leave under the statute must be coupled with the defined level of treatment. That includes inpatient care of at least an overnight stay or continuing treatment either with multiple visits for treatment or a regimen prescribed for treatment. These regulations extend specific rules around the meaning and application of these terms. In situations where your employer rejects an FMLA request for leave or considers rejecting a request you should talk to a Colorado employment lawyer about whether your leave request applies to federal and state law.
Family members under the FMLA and Colorado Family Care Act
Another common source of disputes under FMLA is who the statute covers when an employee needs to provide care for a family member with a serious health condition. Under the federal statute an employee may take family medical leave for the care of an immediate family member with a serious health condition. FMLA identifies specific individuals as an “immediate family member” for purposes of the statute. Under the federal law an immediate family member includes:
- Person who stood in loco parentis to the employee when the employee was a child (took on the responsibilities of being a parent to the employee when he or she was a child).
FMLA does not protect family medical leave for an employee to provide care for a sibling, niece or nephew, grandparent, aunt or uncle, or a boyfriend or girlfriend.
In 2013 the Colorado legislature decided employees often provide care for other people who have a close familial relationship and employees should have protected leave rights to care for those people. The legislature passed the Colorado Family Care Act which extends the range of individuals to whom the employee may receive protected leave to care for a serious health condition.
The Colorado Family Care Act extends coverage for:
- Blood relationships;
- Family relationships created by adoption;
- Relationships created by legal custody;
- Relationships created by marriage (such as step-children and in-laws);
- Relationships created by civil unions;
- A person in a committed, live-in relationship with the employee.
The Colorado Family Care Act extends care to many modern families left behind by the federal employment law. Many employees today provide care for in-laws, siblings, extended family members and live-in partners left out of the federal statute.
FMLA and Colorado FMLA eligibility
The first step in assessing whether FMLA or the Colorado FMLA protects family medical leave is to determine if the employee is eligible for protected leave under either law. This step itself has two components. First, we must determine if the employer is covered by the statutes so that any of its employees may receive FMLA protections. Second, we must determine whether the employee satisfies FMLA requirements to request protected leave.
Employer coverage under FMLA
FMLA applies to an employer if the employer employs fifty or more employees within a seventy-five mile radius of the employee’s normal work site. Traditionally most employers conduct business out of centralized locations like offices, warehouses, or retail stores. In the modern workplace many employees work remotely from home, may work traveling jobs, or split work time between multiple work sites. For these employers the analysis is more tricky and determining where an employee works for FMLA coverage purposes is necessary to determine who counts as an employee within the seventy-five mile radius.
An employee might work for an employer who has some staff covered by FMLA protections and some who are not. The employer coverage analysis is specific to each employee and that employee’s seventy-five mile radius. It is not enough to look just as how many employees the employer staffs overall.
FMLA employee eligibility
If an employee works for a covered employer then the next step is to determine whether the employee is eligible for FMLA protected leave. An employee gains FMLA protection by completing two requirements. First, the employee must have been employed by the employer for at least one year. Second, the employee must have completed at least 1,250 work hours over the course of employment with that employer. For most full time or near-full time employees, the employee will complete the work hours requirement within the first twelve months of work.
This analysis is straightforward for employees who worked a consistent year for the employer; however, it is more complicated when the employee has breaks in service. FMLA regulations describe particular rules that apply when the employee has worked partial years for the employer without a complete, continuous year of service. This extends FMLA rights to employers who hire seasonally and those who furlough employees on a regular basis.
Employer denial of FMLA and Colorado FMLA leave
It is unlawful for your employer to violate your rights to family medical leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Colorado Family Care Act. Your employer may violate your rights by:
- Unlawfully denying protected family medical leave under the federal or Colorado statutes;
- Interfering with your ability to request family medical leave;
- Interfering with your protected leave once approved;
- Retaliating against you for requesting or taking protected family medical leave.
FMLA and the Colorado Family Care Act are highly technical statutes that carefully regulate most aspects of protected family and medical leave. An employer’s failure to comply with the law or intentional retaliation for an employee exercising his or her rights can carry substantial penalty. An employee may recover lost wages, liquidated damages, attorney’s fees and other relief due to a violation of the statute.
Contact Denver employment attorneys about FMLA and Colorado FMLA violations
If you believe your employer violated FMLA or the Colorado Family Care Act then you should contact Denver employment attorneys right away. An employment attorney can help you seek remedies for the employer’s bad acts. In some situations it may be possible to obtain a court order restoring you to a job or title if an employer retaliates against you for taking family medical leave. The sooner you talk to an employment attorney the sooner you can get help.
If your employer is delaying or denying FMLA leave or leave under the Colorado Family Care Act then you should talk to Denver employment attorneys immediately about your situation. Employment attorneys familiar with protected leave laws can discuss your rights and help you get the leave you are entitled to under law.