At Rossi Vucinovich, we understand the unique challenges faced by those in the railroad industry, particularly those facing severe injuries or medical challenges. You work long hours in an environment that can sometimes be dangerous, and you deserve to have your rights and protections secured. One critical law that impacts your work and life is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This federal law allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave over a 12-month period for a serious health condition of you or your spouse, child, or parent, and for certain other eligible circumstances, such as the birth or adoption of a child.

But how does FMLA work, especially in the context of a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) governing your job? This blog post will break down the essentials of FMLA, and how it intersects with your CBA.

  1. FMLA Protections and Eligibility

The FMLA entitles eligible employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave.[1] To be eligible, an employee must have worked for their employer for at least 12 months and clocked in over 1,250 hours during the past 12 months.[2]  FMLA should be specifically applied for and approved in advance where possible, including providing 30 days’ advance notice where practicable and completing all necessary documentation, including certification from your medical provider where necessary.[3]  The railroad typically has a designated process through which such leave can be requested and documented.  Forms are available through the Department of Labor where they are not available through the railroad.

  1. The Intersection of FMLA and CBA

While CBAs often govern jobs held by railroad workers, the rights conferred by the FMLA are separate and cannot be denied by any agreement, including a CBA.[4] Although your CBA may offer additional protections or benefits, it cannot minimize your FMLA entitlements.

  1. Availability and Usage of FMLA Leave

You don’t have to take all 12 weeks at once. FMLA leave can be taken intermittently, as long as it’s for an FMLA-eligible reason.[5] This flexibility can be particularly beneficial for railroad workers managing ongoing medical treatment for an intermittent serious medical issue.  A serious medical issue can be one that requires a hospital stay, that incapacitates you or a covered family member, that causes occasional periods when you or a covered family member is temporarily incapacitated, or pregnancy and associated care.[6]

  1. Job Protection Under FMLA

The FMLA requires that upon returning from FMLA leave by the time all FMLA leave is exhausted, employees must be reinstated to their original job or to an equivalent job with equivalent pay, benefits, and other employment terms and conditions.[7] Any form of discrimination or retaliation for taking FMLA leave is prohibited.  Keep in mind that the FMLA does not protect your job if your FMLA is exhausted and you are still unable to work.[8]

  1. Know Your Rights and Stand Up For Them

Employers are required to inform employees of their rights under the FMLA.[9] Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for workers to be unaware of the full extent of protections offered by the FMLA. In the unfortunate event that your employer retaliates against you for taking FMLA leave, including invasive practices like unwarranted surveillance or termination based on false assertions about misusing FMLA leave, remember you are protected by the law. Unlawful retaliation could result in the employer being held liable for damages, including wages, employment benefits, and other compensation denied or lost to such employee by reason of the violation, as well as costs, including attorneys’ fees, incurred in a successful case.[10]

Contact Rossi Vucinovich for Help

At Rossi Vucinovich, we’re committed to standing up for the rights of railroad workers. If you believe you’ve been unfairly denied FMLA leave, discriminated or retaliated against for taking it, or have any concerns about your FMLA rights, reach out to us. We have filed several suits seeking to challenge actions by the railroads alleged to have been violative of the law in this regard.  With our experienced and knowledgeable team by your side, you don’t have to face these challenges alone. Let us focus on protecting your rights, so you can focus on what truly matters – your health and your family.

[1] U.S. Department of Labor, Family and Medical Leave Act

[2] U.S. Department of Labor, FMLA Frequently Asked Questions

[3] U.S. Department of Labor, The Employee’s Guide to FMLA (“How Do I Request FMLA Leave?” at p. 7; FMLA Leave Approval Flow Chart at pp. 10-11)

[4] 29 CFR § 825.700 – Interaction with employer’s policies.

[5] U.S. Department of Labor, Fact Sheet #28I: Calculation of Leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act

[6] U.S. Department of Labor, The Employee’s Guide to FMLA (“When Can I Use FMLA Leave?” at p. 4)

[7] U.S. Department of Labor, Fact Sheet #28A: Employee Protections under the Family and Medical Leave Act

[8] U.S. Department of Labor, The Employee’s Guide to FMLA (“Returning to Work” at p. 14)

[9] 29 CFR § 825.300 – Employer notice requirements

[10] 29 USC §2617 – Enforcement