Family and medical leave not an option for many

Melissa Coleman was a nurse in the intensive care unit at Redmond Park Hospital, GA. In 2012, she was terminated while on leave. Coleman applied for several ICU nurse positions at Redmond, but she was not interviewed for any of them.

The Family and Medical Leave Act regulated by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division requires employers to grant eligible employees unpaid, job-protected leave with medical or family related reasons. Legitimate conditions include childbirth, child adoption, caring for immediate family members, serious health condition.

The law specifies that for employers with 50 or more employees, they have to grant employees with legitimate claims 12 weeks of leave within a 12-month period.

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In Coleman’s case, she was on an approved FMLA leave when the hospital fired her. She filed a lawsuit against the company and the judge ruled in her favor in October 2014.

Employees can simply fill out a complaint form on the Department of Labor’s website. The department carries out investigations and determines if there has been a violation.

Recent statistics released by the division shows that the number of violation among reported cases in fiscal year 2013 has remained around the same level as previous years. The most reported categories of violation are termination and discrimination.

There are multiple factors that can influence the number of FMLA complaints, and therefore this data is not the most accurate reflection of violations in the country, warned an officer at the department. Many cases go unreported, said the public affairs officer during a phone interview.

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“It’s unpaid leave. Some people don’t have access to it or can’t afford to,” said Tania Mejia, special assistant at the public affairs office.

For employees to be eligible for FMLA, they have to have worked for their companies for at least a year and has worked 1,250 hours in the year immediately proceeding the leave.

Another possible way the data might be skewed is that employees turn to the court and take private action instead of filing complaints for the Department of Labor to investigate.

“A lot of people are calling in asking about FMLA. There might be violations, but we do not file a lawsuit every time,” said Maureen Salas, attorney at Werman Salas P.C. The Chicago-based law firm gets two to three inquiries on FMLA inquiries but only handles cases like terminations that involve monetary damages.

Many choose not to take a leave simply because their situations would not allow them. James Fisher is a reporter at the News Journal. He and his wife are expecting a second child, but he has decided not to take a full FMLA leave.

The U.S. is the only developed country yet to enforce paid maternity leave, according to a campaign video for paid leave on the Department of Labor’s website.

“Forfeiting about a fifth of my annual income, of course, would weigh heavily on the financial planning my wife and I will do for our impending four-member family,” he wrote in an op-ed.

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