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Is your employer forcing you to choose between your family and your job?

One of the most common and difficult issues employees face is when they have family care giving responsibilities that require them to miss some work and their employers refuse to allow them to take sufficient time off to attend to those responsibilities. Most of us are familiar with these types of situations, like: a child or spouse in the hospital; the birth of a new son or daughter; the death of a parent or spouse. Unfortunately, there is not one law which governs every situation but, rather, a patchwork of different federal and state laws that provide employees with certain rights.

hospital.jpgThe federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Maine’s Family Medical Leave Requirements (MFMLR) both require covered employers to provide eligible employees with time off from work if, for instance, they have to care for a spouse or child with a “serious health condition.” The key is knowing whether your employer is “covered” and whether you are an “eligible” employee. If more than 50 employees work in the same workplace as you, the FMLA likely covers your employer. If more than 15 employees work in the same workplace as you (or you work for the State or a town that has more than a total of 25 employees), the MFMLR likely covers your employer. If you have worked for a MFMLR covered employer for at least 12 consecutive months, you are likely eligible for leave under the MFMLR. If you have worked for an FMLA covered employer for 12 months, even if they were not consecutive months, and 1250 hours in the 12 months immediately prior to your request for leave, you are likely eligible for FMLA leave. For more information about these laws, you can consult the Maine and U.S. Department of Labor websites.

Maine also has a law which requires employers who offer paid sick leave to allow their employees to use that paid sick leave when they have to care for an immediate family member who is ill. Under this law, even if the immediate family member’s illness is not a “serious health condition” (which is a legal term with a complicated definition) the employer has to let the employee use her paid sick leave.

There are other laws as well, such as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which provide protections for employees with family care giving responsibilities. The Work Life Law Center at the UC Hastings College of Law is a good resource for information about these other laws. However, if you are worried that you could lose your job or face other serious consequences at work because of your family care giving responsibilities, you should contact an experienced employment lawyer.