FMLA in North Carolina
As they are in all other 49 states, public sector and certain private sector workers in North Carolina (NC) are allowed as many as 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a serious medical or family situation without fear of losing their job. These situations may include the birth or adoption of a new baby, a parent undergoing debilitating chemotherapy or the worker being seriously, but temporarily disabled by a car accident.
This job protection afforded under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 was later expanded in 2009 to include additional provisions related to military service and other situations. Under the expanded law, a worker can take job-protected leave to care for an immediate family member who was seriously injured in the line of military service.
Who Qualifies for FMLA?
Private sector workers are protected under the FMLA in NC if they work for a company with at least 50 employees that all live within a 75-mile radius. To qualify, a worker must have been employed by their employer for at least 12 months and have performed a minimum of 1,250 of work for that company, neither of which need be consecutive.
For instance, if a worker puts in 8 months, is laid-off for a month, then works another four months – they would qualify under the FMLA.
Under FMLA in NC, qualified workers may have the right to use any accrued paid sick days for any section of a leave taken due to their own significant health issue or to tend to a sick person in their immediate family. Significant health conditions covered under the law are described as those that might be incapacitating for three work days or more. Reasons for NC FMLA leave might include chemotherapy treatments, corrective surgery, pregnancy complications, the flu or acute migraines.
What Does FMLA Leave Need to Be Taken All at Once?
The FMLA covers unpaid leave only and this leave could be taken in the form of a reduced schedule or on an intermittent basis, but only if these types of FMLA are deemed necessary by a physician.
For example, a worker could take 3 weeks of FMLA leave to get better after a knee surgery, return to work for a day or two, realize they are struggling with an issue related to their leave and then take another three more weeks of FMLA leave. A worker could use part of an FMLA leave for an illness, then later use additional leave time to care for a seriously sick spouse. Of course, the worker’s employer has a right to ask for medical confirmation for these types of leave situations.
Are Health Insurance and Other Benefits Extended During FMLA in NC Leave?
A company is mandated to preserve group healthcare benefits in the period that the worker is on FMLA leave. Therefore, if the company covers a portion or all of health insurance premiums within a group plan, it must carry on paying this amount while the worker is on FMLA leave. The worker must continue to make any payments as agreed to under their terms of employment.
Should there be modifications to the health plan while a worker is on FMLA leave, the worker on leave must be dealt with the same as any other worker, not on unpaid leave. Essentially, a worker cannot be penalized for being on leave.
A worker might not want to maintain health coverage during FMLA leave if they cannot afford the co-payments without a regular paycheck. However, at the conclusion of the leave, the worker must be returned to full coverage, as though the coverage never lapsed, regardless of whether or not they had a pre-existing illness.
A worker on unpaid FMLA leave might be able to agree to a payment schedule with their employer for health premiums. There are multiple plans that organizations should think about to avoid canceling of benefits.
A company may be able to legally terminate benefits on a worker on FMLA leave if the worker fails to make payments to extend their coverage. Health insurance coverage can also be terminated if the worker's position is eliminated for a reason not related to their leave or medical condition, such as downsizing of the company. A business can also end insurance coverage if the worker decides not to come back to work for non-leave-related reasons or because the duration of a leave has expired, and their health condition still exists.
A worker who fails to come back to work for reasons other than an extension of the health problem may be asked to repay the company for any benefits given throughout the leave.
NC FMLA-Related Laws
While North Carolina does not have any legal guidelines that expand the protections afforded under the FMLA, the state does have FMLA-related laws that could apply in certain situations.
The North Carolina Equal Employment Practices Act, which pertains to all organizations with 15 or more workers, forbids companies from discrimination based on gender, and this law incorporates issues related to pregnancy and childbirth. In most cases, female workers suffering from pregnancy-related medical complications must be dealt with the same as workers with other kinds of temporary disabilities.
Under the NC law, pregnancy as a temporary disability includes related medical ailments such as significant morning sickness, bed rest prescribed by a physician, childbirth, recuperation from childbirth, and any other similar medical problem.
North Carolina does not have a state law that explicitly requires organizations to supply pregnancy leave. However, organizations with 15 or more workers are addressed by the North Carolina Equal Employment Practices Act and must offer the same leave benefits to female workers impaired by pregnancy as are supplied to other workers with short-term disabilities.
This means that organizations can offer paid or unpaid leave for workers with temporary afflictions, including pregnancy disability, provided that all workers are treated exactly the same in their inquiries for temporary disability leave. Treating workers differently could be viewed through the lens of discrimination.