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FMLA discrimination can be avoided during natural disasters

While recent natural disasters have left chaos and destruction across the country, those in West Virginia are not immune to the possibility that such a crisis will strike closer to home. When it does, they may need time off work to deal with the aftermath, whether that includes cleaning up, rebuilding or helping loved ones cope with the devastation. However, while some laws protect employees from discrimination when they need time off work under certain circumstances, they may not protect employees when it comes to meeting obligations during a natural disaster.

Employers may not be required to grant a leave of absence under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act when a worker requests time off to recover from floods, earthquakes or other disasters unless a physical or mental illness results from the disaster. For example, one may not necessarily be allowed time off to search for a lost loved one or clean up after a hurricane. However, FMLA may be invoked if, for example, one's parent requires assistance with a medical condition because of the flooding.

If an employee is already on FMLA leave and the disaster also means an employee's workplace is not in operation for a week or more, those days during which the business is shut down do not count against the employee's FMLA leave time. Employees should be aware of this in case an employer counts those days as part of their leave. A worker would be wise to know the employer's policy for paid and unpaid leave to be sure the employer is treating all employees fairly.

An employer is required by law to respond a certain way to requests for FMLA leave to avoid discrimination against anyone because of illness or family situations. However, obtaining leave through this federal law requires careful documentation and medical certification. Those in West Virginia who feel they have been unfairly denied the benefits of FMLA or who have been terminated inappropriately because of a request for family leave can seek counsel from a dedicated attorney.

Source: shrm.org, "Are Employees Eligible for FMLA Leave During a Natural Disaster?", Jeff Nowak, Accessed on Sept. 16, 2017

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