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Do you work for a state agency? Know FMLA’s limitations on leave for self-care

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Because of a bedrock Constitutional principle, a court has ruled that the FMLA does not cover state government employees who want to take time off due to their own illness. Based on this decision, state employees can only use FMLA leave to care for others.

Recent case: Daniel Coleman sued, claiming he was fired from his job as procurement director for a state judiciary system the day after he requested FMLA leave to care for himself. Judicial officials said the FMLA doesn’t cover self-care time.

The court agreed. In reaching its conclusion, the court looked at what Congress said when it passed the law. When it came to birth, child care and taking care of others, Congress noted that states had discriminated based on sex in the past and wanted to fix that situation by giving employees time off.

It was a different story with self-care. Since Congress didn’t note any past discrimination based on sex when it came to excused absences for an employee’s own illness, Congress didn’t override a provision in the Constitution that forbids lawsuits against state agencies.

To make a long and complicated legal history short, state agency employees have the right to FMLA leave to care for others, but not themselves. (Coleman v. Maryland Court of Appeals, No. 09-1582, 4th Cir., 2010)

Final note: If you are a state agency, clarify your absence policy so employees understand what the FMLA covers.

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