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February 22, 2016
Balancing work and life is particularly difficult for employees who have a responsibility to take care of young children or elderly relatives. It isn’t always possible to take time off work for family leave to care for those who need us. If an employee is fortunate, their employer may provide policies that allow for this. However, this isn’t always the case.
Some protection for employees is provided under the Family and Medical Leave Act, which provides that employers that employ 50 workers or more to provide up to 12 or 26 weeks of unpaid leave per year for specific reasons. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, employers must not discriminate against employers who need to use this leave, nor can they discharge them.
However, for employees in the State of Georgia, there is only this federal act to protect them. This has resulted in problems for employees. Although employers cannot stop their workers from taking leave, employees must provide relevant documentation to support their claim in the case of a reluctant superior. While officially, retaliation against an employee is prohibited— there is no State law to protect against this occurring. In addition, employees in smaller businesses (with less than fifty workers) enjoy no protection at all and are subject to the caprices of their employers. However, in case of a violation of the Act, an employee is not obliged to file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission before launching a legal claim.
In Georgia, employees have found it necessary to take action against employers, or former employers. Action occurs when employee believe that they have been discriminated against, or that retaliatory action has been taken against them for exercising their right to take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. However, they are not always successful. One example is Wright v Aramark Corporation. In this case, the plaintiff alleged that she had been bullied and discriminated against. She said she suffered hostility for taking leave under the Act.
Where employees do succeed in proving a claim against their employer, they are likely to be awarded twice the amount of their lost salary—in addition to expenses such as insurance payments. In Lightfoot v Herr County School District of Atlanta, the plaintiff (a school teacher in Georgia) was fired after using the Act to take leave for urgent medical treatment. The decision of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in the plaintiff’s favor is a positive result for employees in the public sector. The court ruled that public schools must conform to federal employment law.
Yet victory for employees who are discriminated against for taking family leave is rare. Many employers do violate the Act, and the criteria for being able to take leave is stringent. The law is complicated and professional guidance is a requisite. If you find yourself in need of this guidance, please contact PCW Law Firm with any questions.