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FMLA: Turning 20 years old and looking back

Many fulltime employment jobs come with some combination of vacation time, floating holiday time and sick time. We all get sick, our family members get sick and other life events occur that require time away from work. Sick time can help in these situations, but sometimes even that runs out. Employees often find themselves using up any vacation or floating holidays that they have.

But let's face it; some life events require more time away from work than the combined two or three weeks that this structure provides. It leaves an employee in a very difficult situation: tend to the serious needs of their family but face possible job loss to do it? This is why in 1993 the federal government enacted the Family Medical Leave Act. With the 20th birthday of the enactment, we look back at the benefits of the legislation.

For one woman, the legislation meant everything to her and her family. When she was diagnosed with cancer, she didn't know what to do. She was a teacher with little vacation time and a single mom with a young son. FMLA leave allowed her to get the treatment that she needed while keeping her job that was so necessary to feed her family.

This woman is not alone in her situation as many individuals have used the legislation to help them when they got sick, when they were diagnosed with a serious illness, when they cared for a loved one with medical issues, when they gave birth to a child or even adopted one.

The sad truth is that this legislation still has some shortcomings and it can even be misused by an employer. For instance, while the legislation provides time off, it is without pay. Many of those who need the act's protections don't have any sick, vacation or holiday time at all and they fear taking FMLA leave when they need it. In other cases, employees who do take the time come back to a job that isn't there anymore whether directly or by an employer's continued negative performance reviews, scaled back hours and other adverse employment actions, including termination -- actions that were done in retaliation.

Source: The Huffington Post, "FMLA Anniversary: Celebrating 20 Years of Strengthening Families," Linda Meric, Feb. 4, 2013

For those who have suffered retaliatory termination or any other adverse employment action should visit our New Jersey website to learn more about their rights.

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