Employees are protected by federal law from discrimination and retaliation for asserting their protected rights. The Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, provides such a right, allowing employees to take a certain amount of unpaid leave from work, while requiring their employer to hold their job, or an equivalent position, until they return. If an employer fails to provide an employee with this leave or punishes them for using the protected leave, they may be in violation of law.
The FMLA grants all employees the right to take twelve weeks of unpaid leave in a twelve-month period for family or medical reasons listed within the act. At the end of the leave, the employee is entitled to return to their job, or an equivalent job with their employer. The provisions of the act apply to all government employers, as well as schools. The act also applies to private employers with at least 50 employees who have worked 20 or more weeks within the previous year.
To be entitled to FMLA leave an employee must work for an employer subject to FMLA, have worked twelve months for the employer and a minimum of 1,250 hours within those months, and live within 75 miles of their employer. Some of the qualifying reasons that allow an employee to take FMLA leave are the birth of a child, a serious medical condition of an immediate family member, or an employee's own serious health condition. Among the protections afforded to employees on FMLA leave are the continued availabity of health benefits during the period of leave and the right to return to work.
Any employment discrimination against an employee exercising their right to FMLA leave is a violation of that employee's federally protected rights. If the employee is terminated from their position during or after taking FMLA leave, or retaliated against in any other way, they may have a claim against their employer.
Source: Findlaw, "FMLA Leave Law: In-Depth," accessed on May 10, 2015