I took FMLA, twice, for a family member and also for myself. My supervisor commented that I need to help out others because they covered for me while on FMLA. I wrote a thank you to those who helped me, but I feel I am under no obligation to give back just because I was on FMLA . I feel that legally, I have no obligation because I had no control over these situations and it was owed to me. My supervisor also makes employees find their own coverage before FMLA, example; another colleague has to find coverage before back surgery coming up in June. She has enough on her mind and has already been approved for FMLA by her physician. I feel that it is the supervisor's duty to take care of coverage and not make an employee feel guilty, add undue stress, and loss of worktime asking.
I am a California attorney and cannot give legal advice in your state. My comments are information only, based on federal law and general legal principles. YOUR STATE MAY HAVE ITS OWN LAWS THAT OFFER SIMILAR OR GREATER PROTECTION. If I mention your state’s laws, it only means I did a quick Internet search and found something that looked relevant. You MUST check with an attorney licensed in your state to learn your rights.
You haven't asked a question but I assume you want to know if you have any obligation to "help out others" or if your employer can make employees find their own coverage before going on FMLA leave. No, you do not have a legal obligation to "help out others" though it makes sense to demonstrate your appreciation because these are your coworkers, and we all need to get along with others. You did this already when you wrote your thank you notes. And no, you do not have to find coverage before taking FMLA leave. In fact, such a requirement would be unlawful because it would interfere with the right to take this leave.
Please look at my Avvo guide on the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. section 2101 et seq. (FMLA): http://www.avvo.com/pages/show?category_id=6&permalink=family-and-medical-leave-fmla-summary-of-key-provisions.
One other comment. You wrote that your colleague's physician has already approved her FMLA. An employer, not a physician, approves FMLA leave. The physician would verify the employee's medical status and eligibility for this leave, but only the employer can grant the leave. Perhaps this is just semantics.
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Your employer can ask you to help others, but she can't require it. You are correct that FMLA is a legal entitlement regardless of whether you help others on FMLA.
Janet L. Heins
HEINS LAW OFFICE LLC
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