Maryland Workers Rights : Family and Medical Leave Act Turns 20, But Sick Employees Still Fighting an Uphill Battle

When an employee suffers an injury or work-related illness, their lives literally may be at stake. As Maryland Workers’ Compensation lawyers, we work with hurt and sick workers to obtain the compensation they need while they’re recovering from their work injury or illness. This means promptly filing a Maryland Work Comp claim and sometimes, taking the employer to court if they refuse to honor the claim in a timely manner.

One law that provides workers who become seriously ill with some protection is the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which Congress passed 20 years ago under the Clinton administration. The Act ensures job security by providing workers *who meet certain requirements* (this is significant) with 12 weeks of unpaid leave, to care for a family member (including maternity/paternity care) or to care for themselves in the event of injury or illness. The law was designed to protect sick workers from losing their jobs or medical coverage.

Some employee rights advocates heralded the FMLA as the beginning of a “Workers’ First” attitude in the U.S. However, others have criticized the Act as not going far enough, as it does not require all employers to provide the unpaid-leave benefit for all employees (see link to terms of the law below) — and some people simply can’t afford to take 12 weeks off without pay. Considering how exorbitant medical expenses rack up quickly, this is significant for sick workers in Maryland and everywhere else.

Maryland Workers’ Rights Case Goes to Supreme Court
Maryland was, in fact, one of two states that made national legal headlines for state workers’ rights cases related to the FMLA. Wrongful denial of FMLA leave to workers had been challenged through private lawsuit or administrative action by the U.S. Dept. of Labor. Related cases in Nevada and Maryland reached the Supreme Court. As reported,

In one, Nevada Department of Human Resources v. Hibbs (2003), the Court held that state employees could sue to enforce the family-care (sick relative) provision of the Act.

But in Coleman v. Court of Appeals of Maryland (2012), the Court held that the states’ sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment prevented lawsuits against them over the self-care provision.

The Supreme Court of the United States held that, “Suits against the states under the self-care provision of the Family and Medical Leave Act are barred by sovereign immunity.” (See link to SCOTUS blog summary of the Maryland case below. Justice Kennedy authored the opinion.)

Seriously ill or injured workers who apply for Maryland Workers Comp may or may not also be covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act. As we’ve written about in previous blog articles, things can get very messy, very quickly when a worker is injured or becomes sick on the job in Maryland. If employers always stood by their workers and did the right thing — we wouldn’t need Md. Workers Comp attorneys like us to fight for their rights. Unfortunately, when money and compensation are involved, hurt workers often get the short end of the stick.

To learn more about The Family and Medical Leave Act — and whom it does and doesn’t cover — as well as the Maryland case that went to Supreme Court, see links below.

Related Maryland Workers Compensation Attorney articles:

Dangerous Jobs in Maryland : OSHA Site Specific Inspections Target High-Risk, Non-Construction Workplaces (Jan. 2013)

Can I Get Workers Comp in Maryland if My Employer Is Based Out of State? (Nov. 2012)


A Step in the Right Direction: The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 at 20
Verdict : Legal Analysis and Commentary from March 5, 2013
Coleman v. Maryland Court of Appeals
SCOTUS Blog March 20, 2012
Related Web Resources:

Fact Sheet: The Family and Medical Leave Act
U.S. Department of Labor
Family and Medical Leave (FMLA) Information and Forms
Maryland Department of Budget and Management

Contact Information