Leave is a huge issue in the workplace. When rules concerning who gets leave and how often are applied unfairly, the law steps in to ensure workers get a fair chance. However, it’s important to know your rights concerning leave in order to hold your employer accountable.

What We Know About Leave in the Workplace

At the federal level , there are two laws that are big on the terms and regulations of leave rights in the workplace. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act ensures that all works have the same rights and access to leave regardless of the age, sex, nationality, disability, race or religion. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) further outlines the rights and employer dictates associated with leave.

According to the FMLA, each worker has the right to a set number of days of leave, up to 12 weeks, based on the type of work absence required. For instance, employees are allowed time off to care for a newborn, a spouse or for a serious illness of their own.

The act further ensures that each worker has equal assess to leave and that leave will be applied in the same way for all workers. It’s important to note that in the U.S., most leave is unpaid leave, although some companies do offer paid leave under certain circumstances.

Many employers may not be aware of the rights and benefits associated with leave in their particular workplace. Both the FMLA and the EEOC require employers to post visual notice of leave programs, providing employees have a reliable source of information regarding leave rights.

In addition, Under the FMLA, each worker has the right to be reinstated to their job or an equivalent position without discrimination once leave time is complete.

Leave At the State Level

Every state has its own set of leave laws, though in most cases, the language of the legislation mirrors that of the FMLA. However, when a state law contains additional rights and benefits for workers, federal law requires an employer to follow the state law.

In some cases, the law may require substitutions of paid leave types such as vacation time, sick days and more. In these instances, the employer may require a worker to use paid vacation time in addition to the state law designated leave time.

States like Alabama have no additional leave laws, but states like California have considerable additions and offer workers broad application of state law.

In California, workers qualify for a variety of leave types including time off to care for a close relative, a serious personal illness or for the birth, care or adoption of a child. The leave laws apply to companies with 50 or more employees.

In addition to traditional leave types, California also provides for educational leave – up to 40 hours of leave reserved for employees in need of time to visit their child’s school. The law also contains a generous amount of leave time for pregnancy and childbirth. For instance, it is possible, under California law, for a pregnant mother to take up to 28 weeks of leave for pregnancy, childbirth and newborn care.

California also has another notable caveat in its leave laws – SDI. Also, known as state disability insurance, SDI basically provides paid family leave. This important difference makes California one of only a few states states offering any kind of paid family leave in the U.S.

Sex Discrimination and Leave Time

If there are discrepancies in the way that leave is applied at your job, you may have a legal claim against your employer for discrimination. In many cases, employers illegally discriminate against female workers based on their traditional role as caregiver, and this could negatively affect leave time.

According to the FMLA, every worker in an company of 50 or more employees is entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for serious illnesses, to care for a close relative or spouse and for the birth or adoption of child.

The provisions of the FMLA must be applied uniformly among all workers. In addition, both male and female workers should be able to take leave without fear of losing their jobs or experiencing adjustments and changes, or loss, of insurance coverage during leave.

If a male worker is receiving more leave time at your job, you may have a case for sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The act protects workers in almost every aspect of employment including hiring, firing, compensation benefits and leave times.

The EEOC is prepared to handle such cases of sex discrimination. In its enforcement guidelines, the agency has addressed the unlawful disparate treatment of workers with caregiver responsibilities highlighting the ways that employers illegally use gender stereotypes and discriminatory employment practices such as granting preferential treatment to single male workers in comparison to female caregivers.

What To Do When You Suspect Your Employer is Discriminating

The first step to take when you suspect your employer is engaging in sex discrimination involving leave times is to file a grievance with your company. It’s important to investigate whether or not you are truly eligible for the leave you are claiming and to examine which laws apply to your situation at both the state and federal level.

Hiring an experienced employment discrimination attorney to research and advise based on your particular situation is essential. If you are claiming sex discrimination based on Title VII or any of the state antidiscrimination laws along with violations of the FMLA, you could be entitled to adequate remedies including wages, benefits, compensation denied or lost, reinstatement of lost leave time as well as compensation for actual losses such as the cost of caring for your newborn.

Leave is an employment right protected at both the federal and state level. It must be provided in a fair and equal manner among all employees, male or female. Take the time to investigate your leave treatment with your attorney soon to ensure your employer is fairly upholding your right to a discrimination-free work environment.