Are you considering taking legal action against your employer for violating the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)? If you requested or took time off for your disability or health condition or to take care of a family member, you might have a solid legal claim against your employer if your employer (or former employer) did one of the following:
If you're thinking about filing an FMLA lawsuit, you should consider talking to a lawyer. An experienced attorney can assess whether the facts and the law are on your side and explain your chances of winning in court.
To make an informed decision about whether to sue your employer (or former employer), you'll also need to know what you can win in an FMLA lawsuit. This article will discuss the possible FMLA lawsuit awards you could get, including:
In a case involving an FMLA violation by an employer, the law gives a court the right to order "injunctive relief." This means the judge can order your employer not only to pay you money (see below) but also to take—or stop taking—a particular action.
In FMLA lawsuits, there are two actions employees often ask the court to order: "reinstatement" and time off.
You can ask for reinstatement if your employer:
To reinstate you under the FMLA, your employer must put you back in the job you held before you took leave or give you an equivalent position. For a position to qualify as equivalent, it must be virtually identical to your former job in every important way, including:
You can ask the court to order your employer to let you take your full FMLA leave if your employer's FMLA violation included either:
If you win your FMLA lawsuit, you can also ask the court to order your employer to pay you money (called "damages"). Generally, damages are intended to "make you whole" from the harm you suffered as a result of your employer's FMLA violation. Under the FMLA, the courts are authorized to award several types of damages, including:
When you win back pay in an FMLA lawsuit, the intent is for your employer to pay you back the wages and benefits you lost as a result of your employer's FMLA violation.
For example, if you were illegally fired for requesting FMLA leave, the court could order your employer to pay you the salary and cost of benefits you would have received if you hadn't been fired. If you were demoted illegally, the court could order your employer to pay you the difference between what you earned after your demotion and what you would've earned if you had kept your original position.
Back pay is intended to cover the time from the date your employer violated the law (for example, by firing you) until the date judgment is issued in your favor in your FMLA lawsuit.
Front pay is intended to reimburse you for the money you'll lose going forward because of your employer's FMLA violation. If the court orders your employer to reinstate you immediately, you won't receive front pay (because you'll have your old job back at your former rate of pay, so you'd have no damages going forward).
But if the court doesn't order reinstatement and you don't yet have a new job (despite your best efforts), your FMLA lawsuit award could include front pay for a period of time.
The FMLA authorizes courts to order your employer to pay you liquidated damages equaling the total amount of your back pay and front pay awards. Liquidated damages are intended to pay for harm that's difficult to put a dollar amount on. (Other laws allow courts to award something similar: damages for pain and suffering or emotional distress.)
The FMLA doesn't allow pain and suffering damages, but the liquidated damages provision is intended to cover damages that are harder to quantify. These damages can include the stress you might have suffered as a result of having your leave request denied or losing your job.
You'll get liquidated damages unless your employer can prove that the company acted in good faith when it violated your FMLA rights.
The court can order your employer to pay your attorney fees for bringing the FMLA lawsuit. The judge can also order your employer to pay other costs associated with your lawsuit, including:
If you had to spend money as a result of your employer's FMLA violation, the court can order your employer to reimburse you.
For example, let's say your employer illegally postponed your FMLA leave for surgery for three months. Your spouse was available to care for you when you should have been granted leave but was deployed in the armed forces by the time you had your surgery. If you had to pay a caregiver to take care of you because of your employer's delay, you could ask the court to order your employer to pay you back.
Under the FMLA, the court can only order your employer to pay the damages listed above. But in addition to suing over FMLA violations and retaliation, you might also sue your employer for violating state laws that entitle you to take time off or protect you from wrongful termination.
A lawsuit based on violations of state labor laws might allow you to get damages for your emotional distress—the pain, suffering, and anguish you went through as a result of your employer's illegal actions. And an employer's violation of state employment laws can sometimes result in "punitive damages"—an award intended to punish your employer for the company's shameful disregard for the law.
Your lawyer can explain which laws apply to your situation and what you could win if you sue your employer over FMLA violations or for breaking other employment laws. Learn more about your job protections under the FMLA and the laws in your state.
Updated February 24, 2023