FMLA after a serious health condition

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Q: I recently had a serious medical problem.  I spent a few days in the hospital and I am at home now with physical therapy and a visiting nurse.  I expect that I will be able to return to work in about a month or so, but maybe on a part-time basis first.  I am a senior-level manager at a large firm in Boston.  I worry about my job, since my manager is not flexible.  I have been there about six years (in February, 2020).  I want to ensure that I don’t get fired.

A:  I am sorry that you had a serious health problem.  I can share a few recommendations.

First, make sure that you are ready to return to your role, even on a part-time basis.  Discuss the demands of your job with your physician.  You will want to make sure that you are ready to return so you don’t have a relapse.  Your employer will likely request a note from your physician ensuring that you are able to fulfill the demands of your job.  Your physician may request a gradual re-entry back to work.  A part-time return-to-work schedule may help with a successful re-entry.

Second, confirm that your current employer understands that you have a serious medical condition.  I am uncertain whether this was a planned medical leave or not.  Either way, you need to ensure that you (or a family member, friend or physician’s office) proactively communicate with your employer.  Hopefully that has happened already.

If you work at a large firm, you may be protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  FMLA is a federal law which provides 12 weeks of job-protected leave for certain conditions to eligible employees.  One of the conditions is an employee’s own serious health condition.  Your current health condition, and related hospitalization, likely qualify as a serious health condition.  To be eligible for a FMLA leave, your employer must employee 50 or more workers.  Additionally, you must have worked for at least 12 months for your employer and you must have worked at least 1250 hours in the 12 months prior to your heart condition.  You also must have worked at a location where your employer has 50 employees within 75 miles of that worksite.  For more information about FMLA, review   http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs28.pdf to better understand your rights and your employer’s obligations.  I am assuming that you qualify for FMLA, based on the information that you have shared.  Your employer should have shared documents related to your rights under FMLA and forms, one of which should be shared with your physician.

One important provision of FMLA is that it prohibits retaliation.  In layperson’s terms, this means your employer cannot hold this leave against you, or punish you for taking the leave.

Though not legally required, I have seen some employees provide a written update on their role, job responsibilities, etc. upon their return to work.  This update seems to reduce an employer’s angst regarding an employee’s absence and re-entry.  I wish you a healthy 2020!

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.