Returning to work after taking leave for health reasons can be challenging. It becomes even more challenging if your supervisor suddenly places you and your work under higher scrutiny. What can you do if you feel like you are being retaliated against for taking medical leave?
What are your rights as an employee taking FMLA leave?
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid, but protected, leave to allow you to care for your health or the health of certain family members. This leave may be continuous – as in the case of healing from a serious injury – or it may be intermittent – as in the case of caring for a chronic illness.
Not only does FMLA leave offer you the ability to focus on the health of your family, it also protects your career and benefits while you do so. You must continue to receive health benefits during your leave, and your employer must allow you to return to your position when you return.
What controlling behaviors may qualify as retaliation?
Many people are familiar with termination, demotion or denial of a promotion as ways that an employer may retaliate against them for taking protected medical leave. However, retaliation can take a variety of different forms, including controlling behaviors by your supervisor like:
- Micromanagement – While not all micromanagement is illegal, a shift in your supervisor’s behavior after you return from leave could be a form of retaliation. You may face closer scrutiny without a reason for that focus. You may also find your ability to make decisions limited by your boss undermining those choices.
- Negative performance reviews – If you face increased scrutiny in the workplace, you might also find that your evaluations are more negative than they were before. This could be a way to punish you after taking leave or to create grounds for terminating you later.
- Increased focus on attendance – Everyone faces challenges on their way to work. However, if you receive harsher treatment than other employees when you run late, this could be a form of retaliation.
- Overwork – If you return from leave and your supervisor suddenly expects you to work faster, work more hours or to take on additional responsibilities that were previously not a part of your work load, these could be forms of retaliation to punish you for taking leave, or they could be an attempt to force you to quit.
While any one controlling behavior by your boss could be unpleasant, if you experience multiple challenges after taking leave then your employer may be retaliating against you.
How can you respond to this mistreatment?
Feeling like you are under your supervisor’s thumb can be stressful, and you may be tempted to simply walk away and resign from your position. However, you should not quit your job without taking steps to protect your career.
When your experiences in the workplace change after you take protected leave, you should document those experiences as they occur. For example, if your performance reviews became more negative after you returned from leave, collecting copies of those reviews could illustrate that shift. If your coworkers have noticed your boss’s micromanagement of you, they may be willing to make a statement about what they have seen. This type of documentation can help support your claim.
You have the right to take FMLA leave, and you deserve to receive fair treatment when you return. Discussing your concerns with an attorney can help you identify and document concerning behaviors and explore your legal options for holding your employer responsible