On February 5, 1993 President Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act guaranteeing unpaid medical leave to a large swath of employees. The law expanded and simplified protected leave rights under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, in addition to making protected unpaid medical leave available to workers for a broad range of medical issues unrelated to pregnancy or disability. FMLA has received a single amendment in its quarter century life to include protected leave to care for injured and ill servicemembers. However, greater opportunities exist to make protected family and medical leave available to more employees.
Although FMLA is now old enough to run for the House of Representatives there is still incredible pushback from employers. You don’t have to get far into a conversation with human resources professionals to start hearing about “FMLA abuse” in the same terms as tin foil hat conspiracies. Employers regularly continue to interfere with employee FMLA rights and retaliate against employees for requesting or taking FMLA leave. We cannot be too surprised. Employers still routinely violate other labor and employment laws, some more than 100 years old.
Room for FMLA to grow
Nevertheless, while FMLA was groundbreaking for its time, opportunities remain to expand the statute to help employees in vulnerable medical and family situations. Employers may not be completely on board with FMLA’s current protections but that is no reason to fail to expand FMLA and other leave protections.
Expanded family care
Employees remain unprotected, at least under federal law, for medical leave to care for family members under the employee’s care but not immediate family as defined by FMLA or to attend school meetings for their children. FMLA protects leave to care for spouses, children and parents only. Workers often provide care for other family members, such as grandchildren, grandparents, nieces and nephews. Under the current statutory protection, jobs remain vulnerable if an employee takes leave to care for these family members.
Reduce the required number of employees
FMLA also only protects employees of covered employers with fifty or more employees, which leaves a large portion of employees unprotected. Studies estimate around sixty percent of employees work for employers covered by the statute. Employees without FMLA protection must rely on state leave laws, other federal laws, or voluntary leave policies.
Domestic violence leave
The Family and Medical Leave Act does not provide employees protected leave to protect themselves from domestic violence. The statute protects eligible medical leave to receive medical care for domestic violence-related injuries but not to receive legal protection or obtain safety protections (such as changing locks on the home). Without these protections domestic violence victims may have to choose running away from their home and job to avoid harm. Expanding FMLA to include leave to protect employees from domestic violence would have the same benefits to employers and employees as other protected leave rights under the statute.
Paid family and medical leave
FMLA only protects unpaid leave–forcing many employees to balance medical needs against financial needs. The Family and Medical Leave Act allows employers to exhaust paid leave banks against FMLA leave periods but once employees exhaust their paid leave the remaining leave goes unpaid. For many workers weeks without pay can put the employee’s family in a financially precarious position. That leaves workers choosing between caring for their health or their family’s health and the family’s financial health. Often the only choice the employee can afford is the financial.
Colorado protected leave laws
Colorado laws provide expanded rights to employees within the state, although not to the full extent many advocate for FMLA. The Colorado Family Care Act expands FMLA rights to include similar leave protections to care for a wider range of family members. The Colorado FCA does not reduce the minimum number of employees for a covered employer but it expands the range of protected leave. Colorado law provides three days of protected leave to deal with domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault. (Colo. Rev. Stat. §24-34-402.7) There is additional room for Colorado law to grow but Colorado employees receive greater protection than many states where state law is silent.
Colorado FMLA lawyers
Under FMLA if an employer interferes with your right to protected leave or retaliates against you for taking FMLA leave then you can sue your employer to recover for damages suffered. Often FMLA lawsuits pursue recover of lost wages but you may recover other out of pocket losses, liquidated damages and attorney’s fees. If you believe your employer violated your employee rights under the statute then you should contact Colorado FMLA lawyers right away.