The Family Medical Leave Act was created to help employees deal with difficult family situations that require more than just a few days away from work. Family obligations can be time-consuming and affect an employee’s frame of mind, so lawmakers designed FMLA to offer job protection for those who need to step away and deal with a problem.
But what exactly is considered a family obligation?
FMLA does not allow an employee to take time off and have job protection to care for just any family member. Sick parents, spouses, and children are covered without question and the protection can extend to other family members, too, in certain circumstances, but it’s not always guaranteed.
And unfortunately, when it comes to a sick pet, even one that is considered part of the family, protection is not offered through FMLA.
What Benefits Does FMLA Offer?
To be eligible under FMLA:
- The employee must have been employed with the company for 12 months.
- The employee must have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to the start of FMLA leave.
- The employer is one who employs 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius of the worksite.
The most common reason FMLA is used is to care for a sick family member or adjust to a new addition to the family, but these are not the only circumstances under which FMLA can be enacted.
Employees are entitled to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave within a year-long period, if they are dealing with:
- Birth of a child or taking leave to care for a newborn within a year of its birth
- Adoption or foster care of a child and taking leave to care for the newly placed child within a year of the child joining your family
- Care of a spouse, child, and/or parent with a serious health condition
- Diagnosis of a serious health condition of the employee that interferes with the ability to perform the duties of the job
- “Any qualifying exigency” related to an employee’s spouse, child, or parent being on “covered active duty” in the military
There are some instances in which an employee would be entitled to 26 weeks of leave if he or she is caring for a service member with a serious illness or injury.
New York laws also guarantee employees to additional time off from work under its new family leave act. The state’s paid family leave program is due to be phased in throughout 2018 and provides partial wage replacement from a state insurance program funded by employee paycheck withholding. Unlike the temporary disability program, the program will provide not only compensation but also the right to time off work, with guaranteed reinstatement at the end of the leave.
Leave is available to care for a new child, to care for a seriously ill family member, or to handle certain obligations arising from a family member's military deployment or service.
Can You Use FMLA If a Pet Dies?
Unfortunately, none of the protections available under federal or New York law offer any benefits for the death of a pet.
The lack of a specific protection doesn’t mean you can’t take time away from work if you lose a pet. Many employers choose to be generous with bereavement leave and offer time off, sometimes with pay, for employees who lose a loved one. In some cases, employers might opt to offer this benefit for the loss of a pet. This is not protected by law, but might be an option if your employer is understanding.
When Mental Illness is an Issue
There are some instances in which an employee would be entitled to protected time away from work after the loss of a pet – at least indirectly.
If the loss or illness of your pet has triggered depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness that is diagnosed as a serious health condition by a doctor, it would entitle an employee to protected time away under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
This could be the case with any diagnosed case of depression or issue that interferes with a person’s ability to perform his or her job duties. It’s also possible the affected employee could be granted flexibility in his or her work schedule or the opportunity to work from home.
To learn more about the ADA, check out this information from the US Department of Justicethis information from the US Department of Justice.
The bottom line about FMLA and the illness or death of a pet?
It’s rare an employee be granted much protection to deal with the death of a pet, but this doesn’t mean you won’t be able to take a day or two away from work if a pet dies. The best thing you can do is be honest with your employer about your situation and determine if you can use other time off benefits to deal with your situation.
However, if you are facing serious emotional challenges due to the loss of your pet, you might want to schedule an appointment with a doctor. A mental illness diagnosis could entitle you to benefits that wouldn’t otherwise be available.
If you have questions about FMLA or any of the other benefits that are protected by law, contact Borrelli & Associates, P.L.L.C.