There are few in California who have not heard of the devastation in other parts of the country as a result of the hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires. The news provides shocking images of communities and families devastated by the destruction, and many wonder how the victims will carry on. In some cases, homeowners struggle to figure out how to manage the cleanup and to help affected family members and still get to their jobs to earn money to support their families. Will the Family and Medical Leave Act, known as FMLA, cover this?
The federal law (California has other protections at the state level) provides unpaid time off work for qualifying workers to deal with situations involving an illness or other medical issue in their families. For example, a woman may qualify for FMLA for childbirth and the weeks of recovery to follow, and her child's father may have the same benefits from his job. However, does this act apply for dealing with the personal obligations that occur following a natural disaster?
In most cases, FMLA does not apply to things like cleaning up or even searching for lost loved ones following a flood, earthquake or other catastrophic event unless that event results in the illness or injury of the employee or a family member. An employee would be responsible for obtaining the medical documentation necessary to qualify for FMLA. Because an employee cannot always predict when a disaster will strike, it is always good to know and understand the employer's policy regarding paid and unpaid leaves of absence.
Documenting and proving eligibility for FMLA benefits is not always easy, and some may find themselves wasting precious time trying to protect their jobs as they deal with family matters. Natural disasters are not limited to one state or area of the country, and those in California who find themselves struggling to do what is right may seek the advocacy of an attorney. This will be especially helpful for those who feel their request for an FMLA leave of absence has been wrongfully denied.
Source: shrm.org, "Are Employees Eligible for FMLA Leave During a Natural Disaster?", Jeff Nowak, Accessed on Sept. 16, 2017