3-month recovery cost ill employee a full merit raise, despite federal law

CAN THEY DO THAT?

April 19, 2006|By CARRIE MASON-DRAFFEN | CARRIE MASON-DRAFFEN,NEWSDAY

I work for a private company that links merit raises to attendance. I feel my employer unfairly penalized me for a three-month leave I took to recover from a serious illness. I went out under the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the company maintained my benefits and my job. But I lost a substantial portion of a merit raise for 2005, and I'm wondering if the company made a mistake. I thought that between the FMLA and my stellar record, I would get the full merit raise. Am I right?

I don't think so.

Timing is key. If you had earned the full merit raise before your time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act, the company couldn't have legally reduced it simply because you didn't have perfect attendance.

But since you hadn't earned the full benefit (which required you to be on the job), the company can legally prorate the raise.

The intent of the FMLA, a federal law that grants up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year for serious illnesses, is to ensure that employees aren't penalized during that time. As an example: If you had earned a promotion based on seniority before you took a leave, the company couldn't revoke your ascent simply because you took a leave under the FMLA. Such a move would fall into the "adverse action" category that the FMLA prohibits.

On the other hand, if you fell short of the raise criteria by three months (the time you took off), the company could delay it until you came back and fulfilled the time requirement.

In other words, you can't accrue additional benefits on leave, but you are entitled to what you've already earned.

For more information, call the U.S. Labor Department at 866-487-2365.

carrie.draffen@newsday.com

Carrie Mason-Draffen writes for Newsday.

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