Few people in Charleston ever anticipate needing to take extended time away from work (other than perhaps a week or so for a vacation). Yet an accident or the sudden onset of an illness could require that one take weeks off to recover. Employees can take comfort in knowing that if they are forced to leave work for an extended period for medical or personal reasons, the Family and Medical Leave Act ensures that their employment will not end due to their absence (indeed, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, 13 percent of all eligible employees have taken such leave during the last 12 months). Yet will the same job be waiting for one when they return?
Not necessarily. One is entitled to up to 12 weeks of leave under FMLA in the course of a calendar year. The federal government realizes that in many cases, an employer might not be able to afford to allow one’s work functions to not be completed for that length of time. In such cases, an employer can fill the position in the employee’s absence. However, what then happens when the employee returns.
The DOL states that FMLA does not require that an employee return to the same job, only an equivalent position. For the purposes of this law, “equivalent” is any job that is closely related to the position they left in terms of:
- Other employment terms and conditions
Furthermore, an employer must give any unconditional bonuses, incentives or pay increases that were given to other staff members in equivalent positions during the employee’s absence (examples of this may be holiday bonuses or cost-of-living raises). An employee returning from leave is only entitled to merit-based incentives if the employer gives them to others in similar situations.