I Need to Take Medical Leave: What Should I Do?

April 11, 2016

It isn’t always easy to juggle work and family life. If you or a loved one need to request medical leave you and your employer must follow the provisions set forth in the Family and Medical Leave Act. The Family and Medical Leave Act allows employees who are eligible to take unpaid leave from work to care for their family members or to attend to their own medical needs. Only eligible employees are entitled to take this leave. Twelve workweeks of leave within a twelve month period are permitted for the following purposes: the birth of a child/care for a newborn within his or her first year, the placement of a child for adoption or foster care, to look after a spouse, child or parent who is suffering from a serious health problem, any health condition that negatively impacts an employee’s ability to perform his or her job, as well as any other qualifying health reason arising from military duty.

Georgia has no specific law covering medical leave— so when an employee needs time off for medical reasons, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act serves as a relevant statute. This prohibits employers from discriminating against employees who are forced to take time off work for medical leave. As the rights of residents of the state of Georgia are only protected by the federal law, Georgians may find it useful to refer to the factsheet provided by the government on the subject. This fact sheet specifies exact rights that employees may claim. When an employee thinks that he might need medical leave, the best thing to do is to inform a manager and the Human Relations department immediately.

The Act insists that both employees and employers complete the relevant paperwork. That said, action should be taken straight away, especially since the time off is unpaid, rights are limited, and not all employees are covered. For example, an employee must have worked for his or her employer for at least twelve months and must have accrued a minimum of 1250 hours in the year prior to requesting leave in order to be granted the time.

The Act continues to evolve through judicial interpretation. For example, the 2011 case of Hofferica v. St. Mary Medical Center taught all employers to be responsive to their employees’ medical leave requests. Why? In Hofferica v. St. Mary Medical Center, the court found that the failure of an employer to respond to their employee’s messages was “antagonistic”. This supported the employee’s claim for retaliation by the employer for the very fact that she took medical leave.

The case law in this area is extensive and complicated. Cases have defined the meaning of periods of incapacity, which requires evidence from a health care provider, and continuing treatment, where health conditions can be intermittent or chronic. The bottom line for employees requesting medical leave is that they are generally entitled to take it, but the law of Georgia does not protect them. As a result, requests should be made as soon as possible and the lines of communication between employer and employee should remain open. Finally, if any issues arise—it’s important to consult a qualified lawyer with questions.

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