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Don't Demean FMLA Leave


Workers do not have many rights. It's an unfortunate mantra I recite to many of my injured worker clients. Of course, union protections exist in certain settings. Protections against discrimination and harassment exist if unlawful conduct occurs. However, in most circumstances, Wisconsin employees are "at will" employment-meaning they can be fired for any reason or no reason at all.

An "at-will" employee who is forced to miss work for their own serious health condition (or for a child's health condition) can face a difficult situation. Missing work can put their employment status in jeopardy. In these situations, the protections provided by the federal and state Family and Medical Act are crucial. While FMLA leave only applies to certain employment settings (generally those with over 50 employees), the FMLA can provide job protection for a certain amount of unpaid weeks while an individual is out of work.

Given this invaluble security, a recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel caused me concern ("Agency scrutinizes family medical leave in Milwaukee County"). The article raised questions about the amount of Milwaukee County workers using FMLA leave. The article certainly paints this type of leave in a negative light, even suggesting the potential "abuse" of this FMLA leave by employees.

FMLA leave is unpaid leave. Unless an employee has other available/accrued leave benefits, when they are off on FMLA leave, the employer is not paying wages. The employee is off work, not getting paid. Thus, FMLA provides some job protection for the employee, but the employee is not getting rich being off work. I find it questionable that many employees are abusing a benefit that does not pay them anything. Demeaning the FMLA is concerning.

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