More than 100 million Americans have taken advantage of the provisions of the Family Medical and Leave Act (FMLA) since its inception more than two decades ago.
FMLA leave enables employees to take time off for medical and family reasons without being demoted or terminated.
Employees may only take FMLA leave if they meet specific requirements. Due to these requirements, requests for FMLA leave may be denied, and employees need to be aware of the options available to them.
What Is FMLA?
Only six states have paid family and medical leave programs mandated by law. FMLA was designed to provide employees with vital protections in the event health or family reasons require them to leave their positions temporarily.
The core of the Act is to prevent employers from retaliating against their employees who take FMLA leave. Together with the U.S. Department of Labor (DoL), employees are protected from retaliatory action, such as demotion or termination, during their period of leave and when they return to work.
FMLA is not available to all employees in the private sector, however. For example, private businesses with fewer than 50 employees are not required to provide FMLA.
Due to this, it is estimated that only one in five U.S. private-sector workers is entitled to FMLA leave by law.
Can Employers Reject FMLA Leave Requests?
There are multiple reasons why an employer could deny FMLA.
As previously mentioned, private sector companies with fewer than 50 employees are not required to accept FMLA leave requests.
There is a caveat to this rule. Even if companies employ more than 50 employees, at least 50 of those employees must be located within a 75-mile radius. If the employee’s location has fewer than 50 employees within a 75-mile radius, they are not entitled to FMLA.
Employees also must have been employed for longer than 12 months and worked more than 1,250 hours during the previous 12 months of employment.
This does not mean employers may not still authorize FMLA requests, but they are not required to by law.
What To Do If FMLA Is Denied?
The Act and later DOL guidance make it clear that employers are able to deny FMLA leave requests under certain circumstances.
As well as small private sector businesses, employers may deny FMLA request for a wide range of reasons. A physical or mental ailment does not automatically entitle an employee to FMLA leave, for example.
Employees need to familiarize themselves with the regulations and why their request for leave was denied before deciding on their next course of action.
Ask The Employer For The Reason For Denial
The first step for any employee is to ask their employer why their request was denied. The employer is required to reveal the reasons why they made their decision, if asked.
If an employer refuses to provide a reason why they denied the request for FMLA leave, the next step is to contact an attorney.
Make Sure The Reason For Denial Is Justified
After obtaining the reason for denial, the employee should examine whether the denial was justified. Not all decisions made with regards to FMLA leave are black and white.
The regulations do not and cannot cover every possible situation. For example, the Act states that an employee may take FMLA leave if they have a significant physical or mental condition. DoL guidance states the employee should have some level of incapacitation which prevents them from carrying out their duties at work.
However, what the regulations and DoL guidance do not elaborate on is the level of incapacitation. Employers may have denied an FMLA request because they believed the level of incapacitation was insufficient to justify FMLA request.
This does not mean the employer is being unfair or breaking the regulations.
This is why many employers require a medical certificate from a physician before authorizing FMLA leave. Medical certificates must be provided within 15 calendar days.
Challenge The FMLA Denial
An employer’s decision is not necessarily final. FMLA requests may be denied due to a lack of evidence. Employees are able to challenge the decision of the employer through their company’s HR department.
It may be a simple case of failing to provide sufficient evidence when making the initial FMLA request. In this case, an employee may seek to produce additional evidence to demonstrate the necessity of FMLA leave.
This is why it is crucial to obtain the employer’s reason for denial in writing.
Consult With An HR Professional For FMLA Assistance
FMLA is complex, and there are a considerable number of grey areas. For this reason, if you have been denied FMLA leave, contact an HR professional for further guidance.
HR professionals will be able to advise you on whether the FMLA denial was justified and whether further legal action needs to be taken.
Contact the HR experts at HR Search & Rescue for professional guidance on how to approach an FMLA denial.