Recent Rulings: Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
An employer’s statement in its employee handbook that employees who had worked 1,250 hours for the company in the previous 12 months would be entitled to FMLA leave, even though the law itself also imposes the restriction that the employee work at or within 75 miles of a job site employing at least 50 employees, required the company to recognize an employee’s rights under the FMLA. In Tilley v. Kalamazoo County Road Commission (6th Circuit, Jan. 26, 2015), a federal appeals court held that the employee was covered by the FMLA even though he did not meet the 75 mile/50 employee requirement because the employer stated that he was covered in the handbook and in his FMLA paperwork. When the employee was terminated, he sued, alleging that he was fired for taking FMLA leave. The employer moved to dismiss his claim, stating that he could not sue because he was not actually covered. The Circuit court rejected this argument on the grounds that the employer represented numerous times that he was, in fact, covered.
A federal judge in Texas recently held that an employer who required an employee to work while on FMLA leave may have violated her rights. In Smith-Schrenk v. Genon Energy Servs., LLC, Civil Action H-13-2902 (S.D. Tex. Jan. 12, 2015), the court denied the employer’s motion to dismiss the employee’s claim that the employer unlawfully interfered with her right to take FMLA leave by asking her to perform 20-40 hours of work. This included updating files, completing a project, and delivering the project to her workplace. While employers may require employees on leave to infrequently fill in others about workplace matters, requiring employees on leave to do substantial amounts of work is not permitted.
The Seventh Circuit court of appeals in Chicago recently upheld a verdict against employers who denied FMLA leave to an employee whom they employed jointly. The employers had made arrangements to share the services of the employee, who had a business card showing the logos of both companies. The companies argued that they did not jointly employ the plaintiff and that, therefore, he was not employed by an employer with enough employees (at least 50) to be covered by the FMLA. The court held in the employee’s favor, and the appeals court affirmed the award of back pay and front pay to the employee. Cuff v. Trans States Holdings, Inc., Case No. 13-1241, Sept. 19, 2014.
A federal judge sitting in Connecticut recently held that an employee who needed time off from work for an injury and to care for his terminally ill wife could continue with his lawsuit after the employer moved to dismiss it. In this case, the employer claimed that the employee had told the employer that he wanted to be laid off instead of being put on FMLA leave because he could collect unemployment if he were laid off (FMLA leave is usually unpaid). The employee claimed that he had not asked to be laid off but had simply informed his employer that he needed the time off for these reasons. The court held that because it was a he said/she said situation, the employee was entitled to carry on with his case. The employee was not specifically required to mention “FMLA” leave when requesting time off to qualify for this leave.
Santiago v. Butler Co., 2012 WL 527699 (D. Conn. Feb. 17, 2012) (Haight, J.)
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that an employee who told his co-worker to report that he was taking an FMLA-protected day off, but did not tell his supervisor directly, was entitled to protection under the FMLA. The employer attempted to argue that its policy, which required that employees notified their supervisors directly that they were taking FMLA-protected days off, was lawful. The court held that the employer’s policy could not provide less protection than the FMLA itself, which does not require that an employee tell his supervisor directly that he is taking an FMLA day off.
Millea v. Metro-North R.R. Co., 2011 WL 3437513 (2d Cir. Aug. 8, 2011)