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What happens if someone is terminated when using FMLA?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that was enacted in 1993 to help employees balance their work and family responsibilities by allowing them to take unpaid, job-protected leave for certain family and medical reasons. Eligible employees can take up to 12 weeks of leave in a 12-month period for the birth and care of a newborn child, adoption, personal or family illness or to care for an injured service member in the family.

A critical component of FMLA is the job protection it offers. When an eligible employee returns to work, they generally must be permitted to return the same job as when they left or one that’s comparable. Benefits, pay and job conditions are all considered to determine if the job is comparable to the one that someone held before taking allowable leave.

The implications of being fired while on FMLA

It is illegal for employers to interfere with or deny the exercise of FMLA rights. This includes terminating employment because an employee has taken FMLA leave. An employee who’s terminated while on FMLA leave may opt to pursue legal action if their termination was unlawful.

Yet, FMLA doesn’t protect an employee from termination for reasons unrelated to FMLA leave. If an employer can prove that the termination was due to unrelated issues such as misconduct or poor performance that would have led to termination regardless of FMLA leave, the termination may be deemed lawful.

Navigating disputes and understanding rights

Employees who believe they have been wrongfully terminated while on FMLA leave should first consider addressing the issue through their employer’s internal grievance procedures.

Legal action may also be an option, so seeking legal assistance may behoove employees who are terminated while on FMLA leave. A legal representative can explain the possible actions so a worker can better understand their rights and options under the law. They can then move forward with any case that the worker may choose to file while the terminated employee rebuilds their life.