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Tennessee Employment Law Center Tennessee Employment Law Center
Tennessee Employment Law Center
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Gender Discrimination
National Origin Discrimination
Pregnancy Discrimination
Race and Color Discrimination
Religious Discrimination
Sexual Harassment
...and the Law
Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA)
Employment at Will
Equal Pay Act
Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
Insurance Benefits on Termination and Resignation (COBRA)
Mine Safety and Health Act (MSHA)
Non-Compete Agreements
Occupational Safety & Health Act (OSHA)
Rehabilitation Act of 1974 (Rehab Act)
Unemployment Benefits
Uniformed Services Employment & Re-Employment Rights Act (USERRA)
Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN)
Workers' Compensation (Workers' Comp)

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The FMLA is designed to help employees balance work and family responsibilities by allowing unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons.  In addition to the federal law, some states have enacted laws providing additional leave and/or benefits.  In situations where an employee is covered by both the FMLA and a related state law, he/she is entitled to the greater benefits or more generous rights provided under the different parts of each law.  In other words, if your state provides for a paid mandatory leave period but the FMLA provides for a longer leave period, you are entitled to the entire period provided by the FMLA and the time provided for under your state law will be paid leave.

Under the FMLA, eligible employees are entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for specific purposes during any 12-month period without fear of losing their job.

  • The law limits the 12-week job-protected leave to:
    • Birth and care of the employee's child.
    • Placement of a child for adoption or foster care with an employee.
    • Care of an immediate family member with a serious health condition.
    • Employee's own serious health condition.

At the end of the leave period, the employee must return to the same or an equivalent job.

Leave may be taken for blocks of time less than the full 12 weeks.  Employers must approve intermittent leave for placement of an adopted or foster child and for pregnancy issues other than serious health conditions related to pregnancy.  Under the law, employers may require medical certification of serious health conditions, periodic status reports, and "fitness-for-duty" certification.  Group health benefits must be maintained at the same level and in the same manner during the period of leave, but the employee is not entitled by law to the accrual of additional leave during the period.  The employer must be notified of foreseeable leave in advance - 30 days' notice is the rule of thumb, but if that isn't possible, then as early as is practicable.  In the case of unforeseeable leave, the employer should be notified as soon as is practicable.


  • Covered Employers are those that employ a total of 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius of the eligible employee's worksite.
  • Eligible Employees are those who have worked for the covered employer at least 12 months (12 consecutive months not required) and who have worked at least 1,250 hours for the employer during the 12 months immediately preceding the leave.
  • Immediate Family is limited to the spouse, children and parents of the employee.
  • A Parent can include step or foster parents, provided that the individual stood in the position of a parent when the employee was a son or daughter.
  • Equivalent Job is one with equivalent pay, benefits, responsibilities, and promotional opportunities.

Filing Requirements and Limitations:

  • Complaints may be filed with your local Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor.
  • Civil actions may be started through filing a complaint with the courts or through filing with the Secretary of Labor, who may choose to pursue the claim independently.
  • The complaint must be filed in federal court within 2 years of the violation or, if the violation is willful, within 3 years.

Remedies and Damages:

  • Back Pay
    • This is the most common form of relief.
    • It includes wages, salary, and fringe benefits the claimant would have received during the period of discrimination from the date of termination/failure to promote to the date of trial.
    • You have a duty to mitigate these damages by taking reasonable efforts to find comparable employment after you have been terminated.
  • Actual Monetary Losses Sustained
    • Cost of providing care up to the sum of 12 weeks of wages or salary for the employee.
    • Only available under limited circumstances.
  • Attorney's Fees
    • The court may choose to award attorney's fees to the prevailing, or winning, party.
  • Liquidated Damages
    • Includes the sum of lost wages or other monetary losses plus interest.
    • Employers may reduce or eliminate this type of damages if it can be proved that they acted in good faith.
  • Injunctive Relief
    • Available only when the violation of the FMLA was intentional.
    • Common examples of injunctive relief include reinstating a terminated employee or ordering the employer to prevent future discrimination.
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