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Medical leave for cabinet secretary after Los Angeles car crashes

Life can be unpredictable at times for residents in Los Angeles, California. People get sick, their spouses get sick or they welcome a new baby. In each of these situations, the last thing people want to think about is whether their job is safe. Thankfully, federal employment law protects some employees in these situations through the Family Medical Leave Act.

Under FMLA, employees can take unpaid leave for qualified medical reasons to take care of a spouse or other relative and after the birth or adoption of a child. FMLA allows employees to take up to 12 weeks off and still return to their jobs. Employers cannot punish employees for taking advantage of FMLA's protections, and employees who receive punishment may be eligible for legal relief.

The U.S. Secretary of Commerce, John Bryson, announced earlier this month that he would be taking a medical leave of absence. On June 9, Bryson was involved in a series of car accidents. While in the Los Angeles area his car allegedly hit two other cars a total of three times. The accidents all occurred within five minutes of each other.

The secretary's office is claiming that he suffered a seizure that caused the accidents. The secretary took medical leave two days after the accidents to turn his attention to his medical issues. While Bryson was entitled to at least 12 weeks of leave under FMLA, he recently resigned amid the probe into then accidents and their cause.

To take medical leave for qualified medical conditions such as the one Bryson suffered from, an employee must have a serious health issue. A serious health condition can include illness, injury, surgeries or other health issues that require care or hospitalization. Employees must give notice of their intention to take medical leave. Sometimes, they will have to provide documentation of their condition.

Not all employees will qualify for FMLA benefits. Employers only have to follow FMLA rules if they have 50 or more employees. The employee must have worked for the employer for at least 12 months and have worked 1,250 hours in a 12-month period to qualify. California employees may have additional protections under the California Family Rights Act. However, CFRA has similar eligibility requirements to FMLA so some employees may not qualify.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "John Bryson: New details about health emerge as probe continues," Kate Mather and Andrew Blankstein, June 21, 2012

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