When employers hear the phrase “medical leave” the first law that probably comes to mind is the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). The FMLA applies to employers with 50 or more employees, and requires that an eligible employee (one who has worked at least 1,250 hours over the preceding year) be given up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave in a year for the employee’s own serious health condition or the serious health condition of an immediate family member. The Act also applies to leave for pregnancy, adoption of a child, preparation for military deployment, and care for a family member injured in military service.
However, employers must remember that a similar Maine law also extends leave to part-time employees and employees of smaller companies, and adds a few additional categories of available leave. The Maine Family Medical Leave Requirements Act (“MFMLRA”) is a state law that is similar but not identical to the federal FMLA. See 26 M.R.S. §§ 843-848. The MFMLRA covers more small businesses in Maine than the federal law because it applies to all employers with 15 or more employees at a permanent work site. Like the federal FMLA, the state MFMLRA entitles employees who have worked at least one year to periods of unpaid time off from work to address their own serious health condition, pregnancy, or for matters related to the adoption of a child, among other qualifying reasons for leave. The state law provides for less unpaid leave than the federal law, up to 10 weeks in a two year period.
Because the MFMLRA applies to employees who have worked one year, regardless of whether they have worked the 1,250 hours required for eligibility under the FMLA, all part-time employees are covered if they have been employed for one year by a business that employs 15 or more employees.
Employers covered by both laws should be aware that certain types of leave are protected under the MFMLRA but not the FMLA. For example, an employee who donates an organ for a human organ transplant is eligible for leave under the MFMLRA, but not expressly covered under the FMLA. Other situations where eligibility for unpaid leave is available under the MFMLRA but not the FMLA include care for a domestic partner, the birth of a domestic partner’s child, and death of a family member while in state or federal military service.
So, while larger employers may tend to overlook the state MFMLRA because in most cases the FMLA provides a greater annual amount of leave, they should take care to provide MFMLRA leave in cases the state law covers and the FMLA does not.
The state MFMLRA, like the federal FMLA, also provides protections for employees who exercise their leave rights. Employers may not interfere with or deny the exercise of an employee’s rights under the Act. Employees who exercise rights under the Act are protected from discipline or discharge because of having exercised such rights. Rights under the Act may be enforced by an employee through a civil action in court, where remedies may include lost wages, liquidated damages, and attorney’s fees.
All businesses, especially those employing 15 or more but fewer than 50 employees, should become familiar with the MFMLRA and take appropriate steps to ensure compliance. Workplace policies should be implemented that inform employees of rights under the Act and outline procedures to request and appropriately use unpaid time off from work under the Act. Such policies should also make clear that employees will not be subject to discipline, discharge, or any other form of retaliation for exercising their rights under the Act.
For more information on the MFMLRA, contact one of Rudman Winchell’s experienced labor and employment law attorneys.
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