If you sue your employer for violating your right to take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the court may order your employer to comply with the law and you may win money damages. This article discusses the different ways you can recover for your losses if you win your FMLA case.
The FMLA requires employers with at least 50 employees to grant up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to eligible employees for their own or their family members' serious medical conditions, to bond with a newborn or newly adopted child, and to deal with certain necessities that arise when a spouse, child, or parent is on active military duty. Several states also have their own versions of family and medical leave laws, which offer additional rights to eligible employees.
To be entitled to leave under the FMLA, an employee must have worked for the employer for at least a year and must have worked a minimum of 1,250 hours over the 12 months preceding the request for leave.
In addition to these eligibility requirements, an employee must be able to show the employer that he or she is requesting the leave for a qualifying reason, such as a serious medical condition or the birth of a child.
If you are a qualified employee, you may have an FMLA case if your employer denied your request for FMLA leave, refused to reinstate you after your leave, otherwise interfered with your leave request, or has taken some action against you in retaliation for requesting leave. For more information about whether you have an FMLA claim, see Nolo's article Do You Have an FMLA Claim Against Your Employer?
If you win your FMLA case, you will be entitled to receive money damages for certain losses and injuries resulting from your employer's wrongful actions. A judge or jury may award you one or more of the remedies discussed below.
Lost Back Pay. Back pay refers to wages, salary, and benefits you lost as a result of your employer's wrongful actions. Back pay covers such lost earnings from the date of termination (or other action by your employer) to the date of the judgment in your case.
Lost Front Pay. Front pay refers to wages, salary, and benefits you will lose in the future as a result of your employer's actions (from the date of the judgment to some point in the future). For example, if you're unlikely to find a new job for another year, you may be awarded front pay for that year.
Liquidated Damages. "Liquidated damages" are amounts automatically awarded unless your employer can show that it acted in good faith. For example, if your employer can show that it made an honest mistake when it denied you leave, you will not be awarded liquidated damages. Liquidated damages under the FMLA are equal to the amount you win in lost back and front pay.
Emotional Distress and Punitive Damages. Under the FMLA, you cannot recover for your emotional distress caused by a violation of the FMLA. You also can't win "punitive damages," which are intended to punish the employer and deter similar violations in the future. However, some state family and medical leave laws do allow for recovery of emotional distress or punitive damages for violations of those laws. For more information, see Nolo's State Family and Medical Leave Laws page.
The court will also award your attorneys' fees and costs if you win your FMLA case. These fees and costs can run into the several thousands of dollars once a case is fully litigated.
You can also win "injunctive relief" in an FMLA lawsuit, which is an order by the court that your employer take some action to comply with the law. For example, the court may order your employer to grant you leave that you've been denied or to reinstate you to the job you held before taking leave.
If you've been denied FMLA leave or state family and medical leave in violation of the law, contact an experienced employment attorney to discuss your legal options.