It is a common perception among management-side employment lawyers that employees tend to abuse their rights to leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) around the holidays. Some examples of management-side employment lawyers’ advice to businesses about this can be found here, here, and here. So, if you need to use FMLA leave during the holidays because you have a serious medical condition, be aware that your employer may subject you to heightened scrutiny. Heightened scrutiny can be legitimate but sometimes it can cross the line into interfering with your FMLA rights.
To protect your job, you should be careful to follow all of your employer’s policies related to FMLA leave. For example, employers may institute policies that require you to periodically report on your status and intent to return to work. Of course, if you are medically unable to strictly comply with these policies, an employer probably cannot legally hold that against you. But to avoid potential issues with your employment, you should comply with your employer’s policies if at all possible.
It is also a good idea to document your compliance with your employer’s FMLA policies. If an employer suspects that you are abusing FMLA leave, it will be tempted to say that you did not comply with its policies in order to discipline you. So, if possible, make your FMLA requests in writing; provide requested updates in writing; and communicate your intent to return to work in writing. Similarly, if you believe that your employer is interfering with your leave, such as by pressuring you to return to work sooner than your doctor believes you should, document this interference in emails or other written communications with your employer.
If you experience interference with your FMLA rights or retaliation for exercising your FMLA rights, you should contact an experienced employment lawyer as soon as possible to ask for advice. The Maine Employee Rights Group has years of experience helping workers with FMLA issues and can give you advice if you need it.