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New Cases Address FMLA Issues

Three new cases point out the need for both employers and employees to understand the rules relating to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Under this federal law, an eligible employee may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a newborn child; a parent, spouse or child with a serious health condition and or a personal illness. It generally applies to public and private companies with fifty (50) or more workers.

To be eligible, an employee must work for a covered employer, have been with them for a minimum of
one year totaling at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to the start of the FMLA leave; and work at or within 75 miles of a location where there are at least fifty (50) workers. These guidelines are relatively clear, but nevertheless, FMLA matters are often contested in the courts.

New case #1: An employee took leave from his job as a security guard when his wife became sick. Upon his return, his supervisor questioned whether he was actually married. He provided proof but was fired anyway; a lawsuit was filed.

Result: The employee won! The unsuccessful company argued that the legal action was too late. The court ruled however that the complaint was indeed filed timely within the three-year statute of limitations, and the worker proved the job’s willful FMLA violation.

New case #2: A nursing manager remarked to a supervisor that her mother was sick with cancer. Eventually, the employee voluntarily accepted a demotion and went on FMLA leave to care for her. She later sued the company alleging that they demoted her in direct violation of the law.

Result: The employer won. The court held that since the nurse only briefly mentioned her mother’s illness, it was not sufficient to trigger FMLA notice or support a retaliation claim versus her workplace.

New case #3: An x-ray technician who suffers from colitis was approved for intermittent leave. When he missed work for other reasons however, the employee was terminated based for poor job performance. Subsequently, the worker claimed that his leave was not treated properly because he had to obtain frequent medical recertification of the underlying condition.

Result: The employer won as the court ruled that the job followed the law. In fact, the company allowed its worker ample time to obtain the recertification and provided notice of same. Consequently, the lawsuit was dismissed.

Do not leave matters to chance. If you have any questions about the FMLA law, feel free to call us for a lawyer referral who handles these types of cases.