Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in Texas
What Texas Workers Need to Know About the Family Medical Leave Act
The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is America’s comprehensive family leave legislation, but there are many exceptions and loopholes within the law. In addition to federal protections, many states have passed family leave laws of their own.
To protect yourself, make sure you understand your rights and responsibilities under FMLA as an employee or employer. This post provides a general guide to some frequently asked questions about the Family Medical Leave Act in Texas.
FMLA Topics Covered Here:
What is FMLA?
The Family Medical Leave Act (also known as FMLA) is a federal law passed in 1993 which provides limited protections for employees that need time off work for medical leave for themselves or a family member. It allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of time off work without risk of termination. FMLA leave is unpaid.
FMLA allows you to take unpaid time off work for the following reasons:
- you are recovering from a serious medical condition;
- you are caring for a close family member with a serious medical condition;
- you need time to bond with your new child;
- you are caring for a family member that was injured while serving in the military; or
- you need time off to handle urgent matters related to a family member’s military service.
Who Is Eligible for FMLA?
Not everyone qualifies for leave under the Family Medical Leave Act. An employee is eligible to take leave through FMLA if you meet the following conditions:
- you have worked for your company for at least one year
- you worked at least 1,250 hours last year (an average of about 25 hours per week)
- you work for a company that is not exempt from FMLA regulations
How Much Time Off Can I Take for Family Medical Leave?
Generally, a worker is allowed to take off work for up to 12 weeks within a 12-month period. An exception is made for employees that are caring for a family member who was injured during active military service. In these cases, up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave is allowed at a time to care for a service-connected disability. However, leave is permitted on a per-injury, per-family member basis. You will not be able to take FMLA leave again the next year, unless it is to care for a different family member or a new injury.
Employers can require employees to use their paid vacation or sick days concurrently with FMLA leave. For example, if an employee has saved up 2 weeks of paid vacation, his company is not obligated to provide the 2 weeks of paid time off, in addition to 12 weeks of unpaid leave through FMLA. Instead, the employee may only be offered 12 weeks of total leave (2 weeks paid and 10 weeks unpaid).
What Qualifies as a Serious Health Condition?
FMLA considers the following situations to be a “serious health condition”:
- anything requiring an overnight stay in a hospital, hospice, or residential medical care facility;
- an incapacity that requires treatment from a health care provider and an absence from work for more than three days;
- an incapacity due to pregnancy or prenatal care;
- treatment or incapacity due to a chronic medical condition such as diabetes, epilepsy, asthma, etc.;
- permanent or long-term incapacity due to a condition from which the individual may not recover, such as cancer, stroke, or Alzheimer’s; and
- a condition that requires ongoing, multiple treatments such as dialysis, chemotherapy, physical therapy, etc.
Can I Keep My Health Insurance and Benefits?
An employee can keep his health insurance while on leave through FMLA. If your health insurance premiums are automatically deducted from your paycheck, you may need to pay out-of-pocket for your health insurance until your paychecks resume.
Your employer is responsible for making the necessary arrangements for you to pay your health insurance contribution. However, an employer is not allowed to ask you to pay more than what you normally pay for insurance while on leave.
If you do not return to work after taking leave under FMLA, your employer may be entitled to reimbursement for any health insurance premiums they paid during your absence.
Certain other benefits, including life insurance coverage and accrual of paid time off, are not guaranteed under the Family Medical Leave Act. Employers often choose to continue these benefits as an incentive for the employee to return to work after FMLA leave, but are not required to do so.
Intermittent or Reduced Schedule Leave
FMLA may allow you to take leave intermittently (smaller, split blocks of time) or work a reduced schedule if you meet certain conditions. If you need leave to recuperate from a serious health condition, you may be eligible for intermittent or reduced schedule leave only if it is medically necessary.
Similarly, if you are taking FMLA leave to care for a seriously ill child, spouse, or parent, intermittent or reduced schedule leave must be necessary to properly care for them.
Procedure for Applying for FMLA Leave
As soon as you think you made need to take FMLA leave, inform your employer or human resources department right away. Every company has its own policies and procedures for applying for leave through FMLA. There will be paperwork involved for both you and your employer. These forms can take time to process and be approved, so be sure to allow plenty of time.
Employees requesting to use FMLA leave might be asked to provide:
- 30 days notice if the need is foreseeable, or as much time as possible if not foreseeable
- enough information for the employer to understand the leave is needed for FMLA reasons. If this information was not provided before leave was taken, the employee must give the employer timely notice before returning to work.
Employers that are required to provide coverage through FMLA are also obligated to share information about FMLA with their employees. They must do so in the following ways:
- Posting WH Publication 1420: a notice explaining the rights and responsibilities of FMLA;
- Including information about FMLA in employee handbooks and collective bargaining agreements (CBAs);
- Providing a copy of Fact Sheet #28 or other written information about FMLA when an employee requests leave; and
- Providing WH-381 “Employer Response to Employee Request for Family or Medical Leave” or other written notice explaining rights and obligations under FMLA after an employee takes leave.
Who Is Exempt from FMLA?
Places of business with less than 50 employees are not required to comply with FMLA regulations. This includes employers which hire more than 50 employees seasonally for less than twenty weeks out of the year. The 50+ employee threshold includes workers within a 75-mile radius, so companies with more than 50 employees spread across a wide geographic area may also be exempt from FMLA.
State Protections and Rights in Texas
Although employers in Texas must abide by federal FMLA laws, Texas does not have its own comprehensive family medical leave program. State law in Texas does extend the FMLA leave protections to employees caring for foster children. Any company in Texas with more than 15 employees that offers time off work to care for a sick child must give foster parents equal leave to care for a sick foster child.
What Happens When I Return to Work?
When an employee returns to work after FMLA leave, he is generally guaranteed a position that is the same or equal to the position he worked in before the leave. An “equivalent” position must be equal in pay, benefits, and work conditions. However, there are exceptions to this rule.
In a situation where a highly-paid salaried employee’s reinstatement would cause a company “substantial and grievous economic injury,” the employer may not be required to reinstate her. The employer must notify the employee of her “key employee” status in writing and give her a reasonable opportunity to return to work before denying her reinstatement.
What Can I Do About Unlawful Practices?
It is not lawful for an employer to deny or interfere with an employee’s rights given under FMLA. This includes discharging or discriminating against an employee for taking FMLA leave. If an employee uses FMLA leave, it cannot be counted against them in future hiring and advancement decisions, disciplinary actions, or attendance records.
The Family Medical Leave Act is enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor. If you believe your rights under FMLA have been violated by your employer, you can file a complaint with the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor’s Employment Standards Administration. Your complaint will be investigated, and the Department of Labor will work with you and your employer to reach a satisfactory resolution.
You are also entitled to sue your employer in civil court to remedy the violation. You do not need to file a complaint with the Department of Labor before filing a lawsuit.
Speak with a Texas employment attorney
If you believe your FMLA rights have been violated, or fear retribution for FMLA-related reasons, you should consult with an experienced employment law attorney right away. The attorneys at Lindquist Wood Edwards LLP help employers and employees reach a fair resolution. Contact our offices in Dallas and Frisco to schedule a consultation.