Crystal Reynolds Fisher's 18-year-old son became sick with a fever, ending up on life support as he deteriorated rapidly. Crystal, who works at a gas station in her local Albion, Michigan community, texted her boss to let her know that she would need to take time off work in order to be close to her son during his recovery.
Dawn's response was chilling: "If you can't come to work, that's you quitting."
Crystal posted the text conversation on her personal Facebook page, where it quickly began to spread and eventually appeared on national news organization websites detailing Crystal's situation.
In the case of Ms. Fisher, the company she works for terminated the employment of the manager after her story made national news and granted her medical leave as needed.
But... what if you don't have a story that 'goes viral', attracting national attention and putting pressure on a company to approve emergency leave?
What Can You Do If Your Employer Denies Medical Leave?
First, See If Your Situation is Covered by the FMLA
The Family Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, provides protections for employees who are dealing with certain categories of health issues. For companies that have 50 employees or more, the FMLA provides a guaranteed 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period. The FMLA covers health needs like:
- Serious illnesses or injuries suffered by the employee
- A serious illness or injury suffered by the employee's spouse, child, or parent
- Childbirth and time to care for the newborn after birth
- Time after placement of a child in a home in an adoption or foster care scenario
- Up to 26 weeks for the care of a spouse, parent, or child who is an injured service member for whom the employee is the "next of kin".
You can find out more about eligibility requirement for the FMLA, how to request FMLA leave, and what benefits and protected are provided by the FMLA here on the U.S. Department of Labor's website.
Especially if you are laid off or fired as a result of asking for medical leave, it is important to pursue all avenues of resolution to ensure that you are able to make ends meet during this difficult time.
Not every employee or health situation is covered by the FMLA, and you may find that your personal situation doesn't fit the requirements for bringing a complaint under the FMLA. This doesn't mean that you cannot press for a satisfactory resolution to the problem, but it does mean that you won't have national legal protection.
On the other hand, you may discover that you are eligible for FMLA leave, and your employer is fraudulently attempting to deny it.
No matter your situation, the next step moving forward is the same.
Request to Speak With Someone at Your Company
If your leave was denied by your immediate manager or supervisor, you may be able to speak with Human Resources or another supervisor higher up on the chain and have the problem resolved.
In many workplaces, finding out who to speak to up the chain is a simple and straightforward process. In others, transparency may be lacking or you may find obstacles in the way of communicating your concerns that your leave was denied unfairly.
Try to communicate in writing whenever possible. Request copies of any documentation you receive regarding your request for leave, your employer's denial, and any communications between you.
Add dates and times that conversations occurred, if documents do not note them. Be sure to mark who you spoke to, what their role in the company is, and what they said in your communications with them.
Do not sign anything that agrees to your denial of leave. If you are asked to sign any documentation before the matter is resolved, ask for time to go over the details first.
If your leave was denied by the owner of the business, or if you are unable to have your issue resolved by communicating with higher-ups at your company, it may be time to contact the Department of Labor to file a complaint or seek legal representation.
Contact the Department of Labor to File a Complaint
If your request meets the requirements of the Family Medical Leave Act and you were still unfairly denied leave by your employer, you may contact the Department of Labor to file a complaint.
You can do so by contacting the DOL online or via phone. Be sure to have your documentation on-hand to answer any specific questions they may have about your situation.
If your concern is not covered by the FMLA or things are not resolved to your satisfaction, it may be time to move on to seeking legal representation to represent your rights at a worker.
Schedule a Legal Consultation to Look at Your Options
Scheduling a consultation with a legal representative about being unfairly denied medical leave at your job does not commit you to filing suit right away. A consultation is simply a meeting between you and a legal representative to discuss your situation, look over any documentation you may have on-hand regarding your request for leave and employer denial, and discuss potential options moving forward.
A legal representative may be able to suggest certain avenues you were unaware of to resolve the problem without ever needing to pursue litigation, or they may be able to help you decide on if pursuing a legal case against your employer is the next right step for you.
If you choose to move forward with litigation, mediation may provide resolution without ever having to step into a courtroom. In some cases, though, employees have had to take their denial of leave cases before a judge to see any resolution to their problem.
South Carolina's Workers Deserve Representation
At Bluestein Attorneys, we've made Workers' Compensation and representing the rights of injured workers in South Carolina one of the cornerstones of our law firm in Columbia, SC. Whether you were injured or became ill on the job or you have been unfairly denied access to medical leave by your employer, our attorneys are committed to ensuring that South Carolina workers have their rights fully represented in a court of law.
Contact us by phone at (877) 524-4675 or online at any time to request your free legal consultation.