Federally Protected Leave vs. Sick Leave: What’s the Difference?

Ellen Johnston

Dallas Employment Trail Lawyer Ellie Johnston

As an employee, understanding the nuances between the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and company sick leave policies is crucial. Both provide avenues for taking time off work due to illness or family-related reasons, but they come with distinct differences that can significantly impact your rights and protections. I

 Understanding FMLA Leave:

 The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that grants eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year for specific family and medical reasons. These reasons include the birth or adoption of a child, caring for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition, or attending to one’s own serious health condition that renders the employee unable to perform their job duties.

 Key aspects of FMLA leave include:

 1. Eligibility Criteria: Not all employees are eligible for FMLA leave. To qualify, you must work for a covered employer (private sector companies with 50 or more employees, public agencies, and schools) and have worked for the employer for at least 12 months, accumulating at least 1,250 hours of service during the previous 12 months.

 2. Job Protection: One of the fundamental provisions of FMLA is job protection. This means that upon returning from FMLA leave, you are entitled to be reinstated to the same or an equivalent position with equivalent pay, benefits, and working conditions.

 3. Health Insurance Continuation: During FMLA leave, employers are required to maintain the employee’s health benefits under the same terms as if the employee had not taken leave.

 Sick Leave:

 Company sick leave policies, on the other hand, vary widely among employers. Unlike FMLA leave, sick leave is typically provided as a benefit to the employee and may be paid or unpaid, depending on the company’s policy. Sick leave is often used for short-term illnesses, routine medical appointments, or caring for sick family members.

 Key aspects of company sick leave include:

 1. Employer Discretion: Unlike FMLA leave, which is governed by federal law, company sick leave policies are determined by individual employers. This means that eligibility criteria, duration, and pay during sick leave can vary significantly from one company to another.

 2. Usage Restrictions: Employers may impose restrictions on the use of sick leave, such as requiring advance notice or medical certification for absences exceeding a certain duration.

 Importance of Knowing the Difference and Understanding Employee Rights:

 Understanding the differences between FMLA leave and company sick leave is essential for employees to advocate for their rights effectively. By knowing your rights, you can:

 – Ensure compliance with FMLA eligibility requirements and notification procedures.

– Advocate for job protection and continuation of benefits during FMLA leave.

– Navigate company sick leave policies to maximize benefits while minimizing conflicts with employer expectations.

 Addressing Discrimination and Retaliation:

 Despite legal protections, employees may encounter discrimination or retaliation from employers when exercising their FMLA rights. If you believe your Dallas employer has discriminated against you or retaliated due to FMLA usage, here are steps to consider:

 1. Document Everything: Keep detailed records of interactions with your employer, including FMLA requests, communications, and any adverse actions taken against you.

 2. Consult Legal Counsel: Seek guidance from a Dallas employment law attorney to understand your rights and explore potential courses of action.


 Understanding the distinctions between FMLA leave and company sick leave empowers employees to navigate their rights effectively and protect themselves against discrimination and retaliation. By knowing your rights and taking appropriate action when faced with adverse treatment from employers, you can ensure that you receive the protections and benefits entitled to you under the law.

 If you believe your employer has violated your rights, you should talk to an employment attorney like those at Rob Wiley, P.C. Remember, informed employees are empowered employees!

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