Teachers’ Rights Under FMLA in Texas
The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law which mandates job protection for employees that take time off work for medical leave, either for themselves or an immediate family member. FMLA allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of time off work without the risk of termination. The leave is unpaid.
Understanding your rights under FMLA can be confusing, because there are so many loopholes and exceptions included in the law. There is a lot of misinformation about teachers’ rights under the Family Medical Leave Act.
The demands of leading a classroom and the academic calendar make teachers a special case in employment law. Special rules apply to educators in public and private schools (but not in preschools, colleges, and other educational institutions).
FMLA Rights and Protections
FMLA allows teachers and other employees to take unpaid leave for the following reasons:
- recovery from a serious health condition;
- providing care for a child, spouse, or parent with a serious medical condition;
- bonding with or caring for your new child;
- caring for a family member with a military service-connected injury; or
- handling exigent matters related to a family member’s military service.
The school district can require teachers to use their paid vacation, sick days, and other leave concurrently with FMLA leave. A teacher may be required to use all paid and unpaid personal days, sick days, and other leave as part of the 12-week FMLA leave.
Limitations on Intermittent Leave for Teachers
For teachers that normally do not work summers, summer vacation does not count against your FMLA leave entitlement. If you are on FMLA leave at the end of the school year, your employer is also required to provide you with any benefits over summer vacation that you would have received if you had been working.
However, public school boards and private schools are not required to grant intermittent or reduced leave in the same capacity as most employers. To avoid disruption to the classroom, the school may ask you to take your leave as a block, or transfer to a similar position that can better accommodate your schedule. If you foresee needing intermittent or reduced leave in the near future, it is best to inform human resources as soon as you can so the proper arrangements can be made.
Leave Near the End of an Academic Term
If your FMLA leave is likely to last more than three weeks, or have you return in the last three weeks of the semester, the school board may require you to continue your leave until the end of the term. If you begin leave with less than five weeks left in the term, the employer can require you to remain on leave until the end of the semester, if you plan on taking off more than two weeks or returning in the last two weeks of school.
Duration of FMLA Leave
If you are required to take leave until the end of term, only the leave you wanted to take is counted as FMLA leave. However, if you are required to take your intermittent leave as a block, the entire leave is counted as FMLA leave.
If your employer requires you to remain on leave until the end of the semester beyond FMLA, they are still responsible for maintaining your health benefits coverage during that time and over the summer, if applicable. Requiring additional leave after FMLA entitlement ends does not absolve the employer from reinstating the employee to the same or equivalent position upon her return.
Reinstatement to an Equivalent Position
When an employee returns to work, she is guaranteed under FMLA the same position she held before, or a position that is equivalent in pay, benefits, and work conditions. For teachers that are being assigned to an “equivalent” position, the special rules dictate the restoration must be based on the school board or private school’s policies and practices, as well as collective bargaining agreements.
The basis for restoration must be given to the employee in writing before the leave is taken. The restoration must still provide equivalent pay, benefits, and working conditions, and may not require any additional licensure.
Employment Law Attorneys in Dallas, TX
If you believe you have been discriminated against due to your FMLA request, or your FMLA leave has been unfairly denied, talk to an experienced employment law attorney right away. The attorneys at Lindquist Wood Edwards LLP have decades of combined experience with employment law matters, and are eager to help. Contact our offices in Dallas and Frisco to schedule a consultation.