The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave annually. The purpose of this leave can be:
- To care for a serious health condition that keeps you from working
- To care for an immediate family member’s serious health condition
- For birth or adoption and to bond with a new child
It also provides up to 26 weeks of leave to care for a military service member in your family, under certain circumstances. While you are on leave for any of these purposes, your employer must maintain your group health benefits.
When you return from FMLA leave, you are entitled to get your original job back, or one that is “equivalent.”
What qualifies as an equivalent job?
The FMLA protects your job from medical and family emergencies. An equivalent job is one that has most or all of the same characteristics as your original job:
- Offers the same general work schedule or shift
- Is at a worksite that doesn’t significantly increase your commute time or distance
- Involves substantially similar duties, responsibilities and status
- Involves the same general skill level, effort, responsibility and authority
- Offers identical pay (including equivalent opportunities for premium pay, overtime, bonuses, profit sharing and other payments and benefits from any unconditional pay increases that took place while you were on FMLA leave)
- Offers identical benefits (e.g., health insurance, life insurance, disability insurance, vacation, sick time, educational benefits, pensions, etc.)
My employer changed my job when I went on intermittent leave. Is that legal?
Yes, as long as your employer returns you to your original job or an equivalent job when you return from leave.
The FMLA allows employees to take family or medical leave on an intermittent basis, if supported by medical evidence. This could mean taking several blocks of time for the same reason or going on a reduced schedule for a period of time.
If your leave is intermittent or foreseeable in nature, you must make a reasonable effort to avoid undue disruption of your employer’s operations, as long as your doctor approves. If your employer needs to in order to minimize disruption, it can temporarily transfer you to an alternative job that can accommodate your leave better than your current job. This temporary job must have equivalent pay and benefits to your original one.
When your leave is over, your employer must either transfer you back to your original position or provide an equivalent job, as described above.
If you have questions about your rights under the FMLA, talk to an experienced employment law attorney.