Working at Home May Not Be By Choice

By Maya Risman

To have the choice to work from home can be a total blessing.  Making your own hours.  Not having to converse with annoying co-workers. Working at your own pace and on your own time.

But what if working from home was not a choice?

What if circumstances dictated the necessity to abruptly leave your office desk and quickly shift responsibilities to the taking care of a sick or disabled child, a parent or even a husband for an indefinite period of time?

Many questions begin rushing through your head.  First and foremost, questions regarding your loved one’s health and well-being.  And not far behind, you have questions regarding your job security.  Is your employer required to leave your job open? Is your employer required to pay you while you are out of work?

In these difficult times, it is best to stay composed and educate yourself on the employment rights afforded to you under the law.

What are my rights?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that provides an employee to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave due to illness or to care for a sick family member.

Some of the protections afforded by the FMLA are listed below:

  • Covered employers must grant an eligible employee up to a total of 12 weeks’ worth of unpaid leave during any 12-month period to care for yourself or an immediate family member (spouse, child or parent) with a serious health condition. The Act also covers child birth.
  • At the end of the leave, when the employee returns to work, the employee must be restored to the same position. If that same position is unavailable, the employer must provide the worker with a position that is substantially equal in pay, benefits and responsibility.
  • The employee’s benefits are protected in that they are to continue even while the employee is on leave. And upon returning to work, an employee is entitled to reinstatement to all benefits that the employee was receiving before going on leave.
  • Protection of the employee to not have their rights under the Act denied or interfered with by an employer is granted by the FMLA.
  • An employee is protected from retaliation by an employer for exercising her rights granted under the FMLA.

As discussed, there are federal laws that provide some semblance of security in these difficult situations, outside of accommodations your employer may or may not already provide privately.  It is best to first approach your human resources department to request such accommodation.  Nevertheless, it is equally important to contact a local employment attorney for consultation and to learn of any other state or local laws that may afford additional job protection for medical leave.

Maya Risman is an employment and labor law attorney in New York City.