(WSVN) - He had to have emergency surgery, and his company allowed him to take medical leave. When he returned, they fired him. That’s when he turned to Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.

Bring up America and bring a smile to Leovel’s face.

Leovel Diaz, needed surgery: “I was raised by my grandparents, immigrants from Cuba, and we came here for a better life. This country opened us their doors, and we owe it to the country.”

And his grandparents taught Leovel when that door opens, you have to work hard to get through it.

Leovel Diaz: “I love working. I’m all about the customer, making sure that that customer is satisfied.”

But recently, Leovel’s doctors told him to turn his focus from his customers to his health.

Leovel Diaz: “It’s a very complicated surgery, actually. You can suffer from death if the intestines get tangled against each other, so it had to be done right away.”

Leovel notified the company he would be out of work for about a month after his surgery.

Leovel Diaz: “HR approved me for me to be on medical leave. It was a non-paid medical leave. The company does not provide FMLA or any short-term disability.”

The surgery and recovery went well. Then, a few days before Leovel was scheduled to return to work, he noticed an online ad.

Leovel Diaz: “I got an alert with Indeed of a position being open, and when I looked, it was my position at the same company at the same store.”

Leovel hadn’t heard from his boss, so he assumed they were adding another employee. Then, he returned to work.

Leovel Diaz: “I noticed my computer system, it’s inoperable. My password is not operational.”

You know what that means…

Leovel Diaz: “‘There’s been changes made. Your position has been closed. You’re no longer necessary here.'”

Nice way of saying you are fired, but Leovel was a gentleman.

Leovel Diaz: “I shook her hand. ‘It’s been a pleasure,’ and I walked out.”

Being classy didn’t mean Leovel wasn’t fuming becuase he thought being on medical leave protected an employee.

Leovel Diaz: “I am upset because I follow the process to the T. I would like to know if it’s legal. If I can just be fired just like that in the state of Florida after being on medical leave?”

The answer is your job, Howard.

Howard Finkelstein, 7 News Legal Expert: “The family medical leave prohibits being fired or demoted for taking off for a medical reason, but there is a loophole in the law. While every government agency and public or private school has to provide unpaid medical leave, if a business has less than 50 employees like Leovel’s company, they do not have to provide the leave, and since Florida is a right to work state, Leovel can be fired without cause on the day he returns.”

We contacted the company that Leovel worked for. They said they could not talk about a personnel matter but said Leovel was not let go because he took medical leave.

And good news for Leovel, but first, Howard has one more thing to say.

Howard Finkelstein: “If your employer provides medical leave, you also must qualify, meaning you must have worked there for 12 months and worked at least 1,250 hours during that time, and even then, you don’t get paid by the employer during the medical leave.”

Leovel Diaz: “I would like to know, definitely like to know, what their real reason is.”

Leovel wishes the company that let him go would have told him why. They never did, but he didn’t sit around and complain.

He quickly found a new job, a better job.

Leovel Diaz: “Super happy I got a new job. It’s a family-oriented place. I’m respected. I’m appreciated.”

You often hear things work out for the best. For Leovel, they did.

And why is there a loophole in the law? Because Congress thought big businesses and governments could do without an employee for a month or two, but it would be too tough for a small business to lose an employee, so the politicians gave them the right to replace the worker if they took medical leave.

Sick of dealing with a problem? Ready to leave it behind? We aren’t doctors, but we can stitch together a solution.

Email: helpmehoward@wsvn.com
Reporter: Patrick Fraser at pfraser@wsvn.com
Miami-Dade: 305-953-WSVN
Broward: 954-761-WSVN

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