If you have fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome and are continuing to work, there may be a time when your doctor feels you need to take a few weeks off work for your health. Perhaps you are having a particularly bad flare and need an extended period of rest to improve. Or maybe you need extra time off following an illness or surgical procedure, since the recovery period for people with FM or CFS is usually longer than normal. If you find yourself in one of these situations, its important for you to know your rights concerning your employment.
The Family and Medical Leave Act:
Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) passed in 1993, certain employers must grant an eligible employee up to a total of 12 workweeks of leave during any 12-month period for one or more of the following reasons:
- The birth of a child of the employee and in order to care for the child.
- The placement of a child with the employee for adoption or foster care.
- To care for the spouse, son, daughter, or parent of the employee, if they have a serious health condition.
- A serious health condition that causes the employee to be unable to perform the functions of his/her position.
Employers Who Must Comply: Any employer who is engaged in commerce or in any industry or activity affecting commerce who employs 50 or more employees for each working day during each of 20 or more calendar workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year must comply with the FMLA. Elementary and secondary schools and public agencies must also comply without regard to the number of people they employ. A public agency is any federal or state government, political subdivision of government or agency of government.
Employees Who Are Eligible: An eligible employee is one who has been employed by the employer for at least 12 months and has worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months immediately preceding the leave. To be eligible, an employee must also be employed at a worksite where the employer employs 50 or more people within 75 miles of the worksite.
Definition of a Serious Health Condition: The FMLA considers a serious health condition to be an illness, injury, impairment or physical or mental condition that involves either inpatient care in a hospital, hospice or residential medical care facility, or continuing treatment by a health care provider.
How Medical Leave May Be Taken: If medical leave is being requested for a serious health condition, the leave may be taken as consecutive weeks, intermittently (i.e., two days a week off), or on a schedule of reduced hours (i.e., working four hours per day), depending upon the recommendation of the health care provider. Regardless of how it is taken, it can total no more than 12 workweeks.
An employer may require that any request for leave for a serious health condition be supported by a certification issued by your health care provider. The certification must state:
- The date on which the serious health condition commenced.
- The probable duration of the condition.
- The appropriate medical facts within the knowledge of the health care provider.
- That the employee is unable to perform the functions of his/her position.
- The expected duration of the leave, and the dates of treatment (if leave is requested for planned medical treatment).
Paid vs. Unpaid Leave: Generally, medical leave under the FMLA is considered to be unpaid leave. However, your employer can require you to use any accumulated paid leave (vacation, sick days, personal days) first. For example, if you have accrued a week of vacation, your medical leave would consist of one week of paid leave and 11 weeks of unpaid leave.
Continuation of Health Insurance: While you are on medical leave, your employer is required to maintain your group health coverage at the same level and under the same conditions you would have had if you were still working. If you fail to return to work at the end of your approved medical leave, you may have to repay your employer for that health coverage unless you have a continuation, recurrence or onset of a serious health condition or there are other circumstances beyond your control.
Returning to Work:
When you return to work following medical leave, you have the right to be restored to the position you held when your leave began, or to be given an equivalent position with equivalent benefits, pay and other conditions. Your employer may not take away any benefits you accrued prior to the date you began medical leave.
For more information and further details about your rights under the FMLA, check out:
Source: Family and Medical Leave Act. U.S. Department of Labor, Employment Standards Administration, Wage and Hour Division. 1/23/07.