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Can I Sue My Employer for Violating the Family and Medical Leave Act?

If your employer has violated the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), you can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) or bring a private lawsuit under section 107 of the FMLA.

The FMLA requires covered employers to provide their workers with 12 weeks of unpaid leave for certain life events. Under this federal law, FMLA leave is available to eligible employees in any one-year period to tend to:

  • sick family members
  • serious personal illness
  • newborn babies
  • new adoptions or foster care adoptions

Additionally, 12-week leave requests are available to immediate members of military service members who have been deployed for a 12-month period (or longer). Military caregivers are given an extended 26-week period of time to care for service members with serious medical conditions.

If you have a qualifying medical condition, you are anticipating the birth of a child, or you have family suffering from a serious health condition, an employment attorney can make sure you are afforded the full protections of your FMLA rights when requesting a leave of absence from your boss.

If you aren't certain whether your case should be presented to a lawyer just yet, you can also learn more about the FMLA directly through the federal government via the DOL's Wage and Hour Division's FMLA Landing Page

Employer and Employee Eligibility

The FMLA applies to all state, local, and federal government employers. A private employer is covered under the FMLA if:

  • the employer has 50 or more employees; and
  • the employees are in a location within a 75-mile radius; and
  • the employees are employed for 20 or more work weeks during the current or previous calendar year.

While the FMLA is a federal law, many states have enacted similar laws that provide greater protection for employees, including:

  • The California Family Rights Act
  • Maine Family Medical Leave Requirements Act
  • Maryland's Time to Care Act of 2022

Other states, including Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, Rhode Island, and Vermont have lowered the limit on the number of employees an employer must have before being subject to FMLA claims.

Employees, on the other hand, must also meet certain conditions to be eligible (or “covered") under FMLA cases. Eligible employees must have:

  • worked for a covered employer for at least a year
  • worked for 1,250 hours in the year before the start of the leave
  • worked at a site where 50 or more workers are employed by the employer within a 75-mile radius of that worksite.

Enforcement and Filing Your Lawsuit

Let's say that you have been working at a large company for five years. One day on the job, you receive a troubling telephone call from the hospital. The doctor informs you that earlier that day, your spouse, who suffers from asbestos-induced mesothelioma, had collapsed at home and was taken to the emergency room. Although they will be discharged in a few days, they will need to be monitored 24/7 for the next couple of weeks to make sure their serious condition is stable.

Sadly, the health insurance and health benefits provided through your job aren't enough to cover your spouse's needs at home, and you're the only person they can trust to provide you with the care they need. Under great emotional distress, you rush to your boss to request time off from work. Your employer pretends to express sympathy, but words are cheap: the boss shakes their head, apologizes, and tells you that times are tough and the company can't afford to lose you even for a day.

“I'm really sorry, but I'll just have to hire someone else if you can't be here," your boss threatens. “I can't make any promises that we can give you job reinstatement when you're back."

You recognize that this is illegal because you read about it on FindLaw. So remembering what to do, you take the following steps:

  1. Step One: You request a medical certification from your spouse's healthcare provider. If the doctor isn't sure what form to use, you can point them to the DOL's FMLA forms page. You show the certification to your employer, who shrugs it off and gives you another warning not to leave work.
  2. Step Two: You consider whether to complain to the Secretary of Labor (a public agency complaint), or whether you should file a private lawsuit through the court system.
  3. Step Three: The Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) allows you to file a complaint in person, by mail, or by telephone. You can't sit around forever, as the complaint must be brought within a reasonable time. This is called a “statute of limitation" and it varies depending on the nature of your claim. An FMLA lawsuit must be filed within two years after the last employer action that you believe was in violation of the FMLA. The time is extended to three years if the employer's violation was willful.

Therefore, consulting with a lawyer is a great idea irrespective of whether you'll be filing a public agency complaint or a private lawsuit in the courts.

Remedies Available Under FMLA

If you win your FMLA case, you can recover damages in the form of:

  • back pay (prior lost salary and benefits)
  • front pay (future lost salary and benefits)
  • liquidated damages (stress and other harms caused)
  • court fees and attorney's fees
  • other costs, such as caregiver expenses

To recover these types of relief, you will need to show the court that you incurred these damages as a result of your employer's violation of the FMLA.

Consult With an Employment Lawyer

An experienced employment law attorney can make sure that your employee rights are protected against any violation of the FMLA. Under federal law, you have a basis to file a lawsuit in response to an employer's refusal to allow you to take time off from work for medical reasons without worrying about losing your job.

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