The Family Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, allows you to take time off of work for serious illness or the birth or adoption of a child. The serious illness can be your own, or something affecting a close family member. So you can take the leave for yourself, or to care for a spouse, minor or disabled child, or a parent.

Under the law, you get 12 weeks of leave, per year. The leave is not paid, but there is a guarantee that your job will be waiting for your when you get back. You also get to keep your benefits during your leave. The ability to take FMLA leave generally does not kick in until you have worked for your employer for 12 months and worked at least 1,250 hours in the past year. Employers who have fewer than 50 employees within 75 miles are exempt, meaning that if you work for one of these small employers, you may not be entitled to FMLA leave.

There’s a lot of confusion among employees and employers about what FMLA is for and how it works. What’s worse is that there often is blatant discrimination by employers against employees who take FMLA leave.

Discrimination is illegal. If you take a leave that you are legally entitled to according to FMLA law, then your employer cannot fire you for it. They can’t give away your job while you’re gone, and they can’t fire you once you return in order to punish you for taking a leave. You can’t be discriminated against for asking for FMLA leave and you can’t be passed over for a promotion or denied a raise because you took a leave. These, too, are forms of discrimination.

You can sue your employer if they discriminate against you because of your FMLA leave. You can sue for financial loss, such as pay that you missed out on because of their actions. If you were denied a promotion, you could recover the pay that you should have been earning since that time.

Your employer might have a policy on FMLA with additional rules, such as a requirement that you overlap FMLA with paid sick or vacation time. Some employer policies are perfectly fine, while others violate the law. It’s a good idea to at least check with an Illinois lawyer who knows the intricacies of FMLA law and how it’s applied in various situations. It’s all about protecting your job and your financial stability. Taking time to deal with a serious illness in your family (or a new baby) shouldn’t put all that in jeopardy.