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Federal And New Jersey Family Leave Acts Claims

Protections Under the Federal and New Jersey Family Leave Acts

Congress enacted the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in 1993 to accommodate the important societal interest of assisting families by establishing a minimum labor standard for a leave of absence from the job for medical reasons. The FMLA applies to companies employing 50 or more employees. It allows an employee who has worked greater than 12 months for a single employer and who had accumulated 1250 hours of service within the previous 12 month period the ability to take up to 12 weeks of leave due to the birth or adoption of a child, in order to care for an immediate family member, for a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to work, and for other qualifying exigencies. Such time can be taken intermittently if taken to care for a family member or due to a serious health condition.

Under the FMLA, employers who interfere with an employee’s right to FMLA, or retaliate against an employee for taking such leave, may be found liable to the employee for damages including, but not limited to, “any wages, salary, employment benefits, or other compensation denied or lost to such employee by reason of the violation” as well as interest, liquidated damages, equitable relief and attorney’s fees. The FMLA mandates that liquidated damages in the amount equal to back pay and interest be awarded effectively doubling the plaintiff’s economic damages.

The New Jersey Family Leave Act

The New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA) was phased in over the course of four years in the early 1990s. The NJFLA also applies to companies employing 50 or more employees. It allows an employee who has worked at least 12 months for a single employer and who had accumulated 1000 base hours of service within the previous 12 month period the ability to take up to 12 weeks of leave due to the birth or adoption of a child, in order to care for an immediate family member. Similar to FMLA, under the NJFLA leave can be taken intermittently.

The most important difference between FMLA and NJFLA is that an employee does not qualify for NJFLA in order to take care of his or her own serious health condition. Another important difference between these federal and state leave laws is that a person who has had their rights under the NJFLA interfered with or endured retaliation for taking such leave, may recover a more expansive array of damages including all equitable remedies and compensatory damages available under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination such as back and front pay economic damages, emotional distress damages, punitive damages and an award of reasonable attorney fees and costs of suit.

Interference Claims Under Fmla and Njfla

Both the FMLA and NJFLA make it unlawful for an employer to interfere with the rights provided under those Acts and/or withhold the benefits provided for by the Acts. The elements of a cause of action under these Acts are: (1) plaintiff was employed by defendant; (2) plaintiff was performing satisfactorily; (3) a qualifying member of plaintiff's family was seriously injured; (4) plaintiff took or sought to take leave from her employment to care for her injured relative; and (5) plaintiff suffered an adverse employment action as a result. Depalma v. Building Inspection Underwriters, 350 N.J. Super. 195, 213 (App. Div. 2002). A plaintiff can prove an employer's unlawful intent through circumstantial evidence by proving that the wrongful motive was a substantial or determinative factor in the discharge decision. Id. at 214. See also Parker v. Hahnemann Univ. Hosp., 234 F. Supp. 2d 478 (D.N.J. 2002).

Retaliation Claims Under Fmla and Njfla

To establish a case of retaliation under the NJFLA and FMLA, a plaintiff must show that: (1) he or she was engaged in a protected activity known to the defendant; (2) he or she was thereafter subjected to an adverse employment decision by the defendant; and (3) there was a causal link between the two. Romano v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co., 284 N.J.Super. 543, 548-49 (App. Div. 1995). Additionally, employers cannot use the taking of FMLA leave as a negative factor in employment actions, such as hiring, promotions or disciplinary actions. Parker v. Hahnemann Univ. Hosp., supra at 488.

The attorneys at Mashel Law want to help if you believe you have been denied family leave benefits or punished for taking them. Call us at (732) 536-6161 or fill out the online contact form found on this page.

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