The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in NC, and What It Means for You
The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) tries to ensure American workers can balance their jobs with their health and their family’s health. However, not everyone understands its provisions. So are you covered? What does FMLA cover in North Carolina, and does state law offer additional benefits?
You should know your rights under North Carolina employment law. That begins by understanding a bit more about the FMLA and North Carolina FMLA laws surrounding family and medical leave.
What Is the Family and Medical Leave Act?
FMLA is a federal law giving eligible workers certain rights to take leave from their jobs to care for themselves or their families. It requires certain employers, such as large employers and public sector employers, to allow those eligible workers to take time off without negative repercussions from the absence.
The law was intended to enable many American workers to find more balance between their work and personal lives. If you read between the lines, you’ll see some very specific terminology used, like “eligible workers” and “qualifying employers.” That’s because FMLA does not universally apply to everyone. However, many employers are required to comply with FMLA. Do you work for a qualifying employer, meaning are they required to accept FMLA requests? And are you eligible for FMLA leave?
What Benefits Does FMLA Give Me in NC?
As a federal law, FMLA applies in every state, though some states supplement the FMLA with additional protections or benefits for workers.
The Family and Medical Leave Act provides eligible employees in NC with the following benefits:
- Eligible employees can take up to 12 unpaid work weeks per year for qualifying reasons outlined in the law (see below).
- The law requires the employee’s group health benefits to be maintained during the leave, though the employee must still pay the premiums on the policy.
- Most employees are entitled to return to the same job or an equivalent job at the end of their FMLA leave.
- Certain military deployments by family members may qualify an employee for FMLA leave.
- Eligible employees may also take up to 26 weeks in a single 12-month period to care for covered service members with a serious injury or illness.
North Carolina FMLA Laws: Additional Benefits
Three additional rules offer other benefits to eligible workers, specifically in North Carolina.
- Family Illness Leave – North Carolina allows up to 52 weeks of unpaid leave over five years to care for a child, spouse, or parent with a serious health condition. This benefit is available to all employees eligible for FMLA, and is accounted for separately from FMLA leave.
- School Leave – The state requires employers to grant four hours of leave per year to all eligible employees who are the parent, guardian, or “in loco parentis” of a school-aged child to attend or be involved at the child’s school. The employer can require up to 48 hours of notice and written verification of the activity from the school.
- Leave to Obtain a Protective Order – North Carolina law requires employers to provide unpaid leave for an employee to seek a protective order or other relief from domestic violence. The law doesn’t specify an exact amount of time, only that the time be “reasonable.” Employees must provide notice to employers where possible.
NOTE: If a sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking, or elder abuse victim develops serious health conditions, or you are caring for someone who is a victim/survivor who develops serious health conditions, this may also qualify for FMLA.
Do I Qualify for FMLA Leave in North Carolina?
There are specific criteria for your employer, your job, and your reason for requesting your leave for you to qualify for FMLA leave.
Is My Employer Required to Honor FMLA Leave?
Private employers are generally only required to honor FMLA leave if they employ or have employed 50 or more employees in a 75-milie radius for at least 20 weeks in the current or previous year. For example, a law firm with more than 50 full-time employees that work in Charlotte and Gastonia would generally be subject to FMLA requirements, while a small bakery with only one location and six employees would likely not.
State and federal employers are also subject to FMLA rules, including public and private elementary and secondary schools.
Am I Eligible for FMLA Leave?
If you work for a qualifying employer, you must meet a few criteria to be eligible for FMLA leave in North Carolina.
- Have worked for the qualifying employer for at least 12 months (though the months worked don’t have to be in a row).
- Have worked a minimum of 1,250 hours for that employer in the last 12 months. This means that full-time and part-time employees may qualify.
- Have worked at a site where the employer has 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius.
- Have a valid reason for requesting FMLA leave (see below).
What Qualifies for FMLA in NC? Is My Reason for Requesting Leave Valid?
The FMLA defines what activities qualify for leave under the law. Qualifying employers must, by law, grant FMLA leave to eligible employees for the following reasons:
- The employee has a serious medical condition and is unable to work.
- The employee has an immediate family member with a serious medical condition and must care for that person.
- The birth, adoption, or placement of a foster care child and their care.
- The employee’s spouse, child, or parent is on active duty or has been called to active duty for the National Guard or Reserve in support of a contingency operation, which the law defines as a “qualifying exigency.”
What Are Some Common Reasons for Taking FMLA Leave?
The law broadly defines what qualifies for FMLA leave. Some reasons are obvious, and some aren’t. Here are a few examples of leave that would generally qualify:
- A medical condition that will prevent you from performing your job, like a severe back injury or cancer diagnosis
- A pregnancy or adoption
- Hospitalization of yourself or a qualifying family member
- Ongoing care from a healthcare provider for yourself or a qualifying family member
- A “qualifying exigency” such as a covered military member deployed to active duty
- A family member’s or covered military service member’s condition rendering them unable to perform everyday activities
- A medical condition that requires you to regularly attend physical therapy, which may require intermittent FMLA leave
Do I Have to Provide My Employer With Medical Records to Prove I Qualify for FMLA Leave?
No. The law requires you to provide your employer with “sufficient information” so they can understand why the leave qualifies as FMLA leave and how long they’ll be without your services. Your employer can request some medical certification of the condition that is causing you to ask for FMLA leave, but you are not required to furnish that certification in the form of medical records.
How Do I Request FMLA Leave in North Carolina?
FMLA leave works similarly to how all leave does. You must follow your employer’s rules for calling in sick or requesting leave. The law requires that, when possible, an employee give reasonable notice to their employer of the requested absence. The law understands that both foreseeable and unforeseen circumstances can trigger the need for FMLA leave.
Failure to follow your employer’s procedures could result in the delay or denial of your FMLA request.
Unforeseen absences are for employees who had no way of knowing an event would require them to take leave and had no way of giving advance notice. The law requires employees to provide their employers “reasonable notice,” and in these cases, notice should be “as soon as practicable” under the circumstances. Notice may require as little as leaving a message with your employer, but you should be as proactive as possible.
EXAMPLE: Your spouse is injured in a car accident, and you immediately divert to the hospital. You call, text, and/or email your supervisor with the news and that you will not be able to work. As the accident is sudden, you cannot be reasonably expected to provide much notice, and alerting your employer to the accident and your absence in this way should satisfy notice requirement policies.
Foreseen absences give the employer ample time to react and reassign duties and are therefore the most preferred way to request FMLA. You can usually submit this request the same way you request vacation time, but consult your employee manual if applicable.
EXAMPLE: Your spouse has received deployment orders from the military, and will be leaving in two months. If you were to notify your employer within a week, you would almost certainly be within a reasonable timeframe and would have time to follow the normal leave request protocols your employer has in place.
What Should I Do if I Believe My Employer Violated FMLA or NC Employment Rules?
There are two courses of action. You can file a complaint with the Department of Labor, and you can contact an employment law attorney. Your livelihood is on the line, and you’re already in a stressful situation. If you had reason for requesting FMLA leave, do not hesitate to act. There are two primary ways an employer can violate the FMLA in North Carolina:
- Interference – When an employer denies your qualifying leave or makes it difficult to take the leave for which you qualify under the law
- Retaliation – When an employer punishes an employee for taking FMLA leave by demoting, cutting pay, firing, or other means
If you encounter interfering or retaliatory behavior from your employer, there are good reasons why you might want to hire an employment law attorney.
What Kinds of Compensation Might I Receive if My Employer Violates FMLA?
Federal and state laws may differ in places, but generally speaking, an employer who violates FMLA rules may be required to pay:
- Wages and benefits you were denied due to interference or retaliation
- Damages for any money you lost, such as interest on medical bills you were unable to pay due to the loss of your job or a cut in pay
- Interest on money you lost
- Reinstatement of your job if you were fired, or restoration of your prior position if you were demoted
- Attorney fees and court costs incurred fighting your claim
There are several factors involved, and you should consult with an employment law attorney regarding the possible compensation in your particular circumstances.
What Is the Statute of Limitations on an FMLA Civil Suit in NC?
In the event of retaliation or interference by an employer in an FMLA case, the employee may be able to bring a civil lawsuit for damages. The federal and state statute of limitations on an FMLA civil case is generally two years from the action that the employee believes violated the law or three years if the violation is “willful” – meaning the employer knew the conduct was illegal or recklessly disregarded the law.
Even if you have time until the statute of limitations is up, act as quickly as possible.
Other Common Questions About North Carolina FMLA Laws
Here are a few frequently asked questions about FMLA rules in NC. The DOL also provides an extensive FAQ for employees regarding federal law. Due to the law’s numerous qualifications and exceptions, it’s advisable to seek the advice of an experienced employment law attorney to address your specific circumstances.
Do I Get Paid for FMLA Leave in NC?
No, the law does not require employers to pay employees during FMLA leave. However, employees may take paid time off (PTO), vacation time, or other paid leave if they have accrued it, and employers may require the employee to use paid leave time during their FMLA leave.
How Long Does FMLA Leave Last in NC?
North Carolina law follows the FMLA closely but does diverge in a few places. In North Carolina, an eligible employee may request up to 12 weeks of FMLA leave in 12 months, and these weeks need not be consecutive. Longer periods of leave are possible under certain circumstances.
What FMLA Forms Will I Need to Fill Out in NC?
Probably none, at least from the government. The Department of Labor (DOL) provides FMLA forms for employers to use. Your employer may ask you to fill out forms, including disclosures of your rights under the law.
The DOL’s forms come in two types: notices and certifications.
Notice forms will be about your eligibility for FMLA, your rights under the law, whether or not your leave is approved (and possibly the employer’s policy on whether you must take paid leave concurrently), and so on.
Certification forms will concern your reason for taking FMLA leave. These may ask about the health reasons (for you or a qualifying family member) for the absence or about the deployment of or injury to a family service member.
Do I Have to Use My Employer’s Forms to Request FMLA Leave?
Strictly speaking, no. Your employer can’t reject a certification if it contains all of the necessary information and the request qualifies under the terms of FMLA. They cannot reject your certification as long as it has all of the information needed and qualifies.
They cannot refuse:
- A fax of the certification (or a copy)
- A certification that isn’t on the company’s standard form, as long as you include the information required for qualification
- Medical documentation, such as communication on the letterhead of a healthcare provider
Enlist the Help of an Experienced Employment Law Attorney in NC
In a time of need for yourself or a family member, the last thing you need is the stress of an employer wrongfully denying your lawful request or retaliating because you had to take leave. If that’s happened to you, do not hesitate to speak with an attorney. You may be entitled to:
- Wages and benefits that you were wrongfully denied
- Damages for money you lost
- Interest on money you lost
- Reinstatement to or restoration of your prior position
- Attorney’s fees and court costs
Call us anytime at 1-866-900-7078 or contact us online for a free, confidential case evaluation. We’ve helped more than 50,000 clients recover more than $1.2 billion in total compensation.1 We look forward to assisting you!Text Us