How can a company get charged with denying FMLA rights to an employee even though the company granted the request for FMLA leave?
The answer lies in how well — or how poorly — the company follows FMLA reporting procedures.
That became obvious in a recent court case involving FMLA rights. The details:
Worker paid for husband’s care
After her husband was diagnosed with cancer, legal secretary Vanessa McFadden took FMLA leave.
Then her employer made a critical error: It mistakenly told her she had less leave time available to her than she was actually eligible for.
As a result, when McFadden used up all of the FMLA time her employer said she was eligible for, she paid her sister to care for her husband.
‘Never said she couldn’t take leave’
When McFadden discovered the error, she sued her employer, claiming it had interfered with her FMLA rights.
Now here’s where it gets interesting. The company admitted that it had made a mistake in determining how much leave time she could take under the FMLA. However, it said that it had never denied her the ability to take more leave. Every time McFadden requested leave, it was granted — so the company claimed it had never actually violated FMLA law.
No dice, the court said. None of that mattered. All McFadden had to prove was that the company interfered with her rights.
And she was able to prove that her employer did exactly that by showing she lost money when she paid her sister to watch her husband — which wouldn’t have happened had her employer properly informed her of how much leave time she could take. So McFadden won the lawsuit.
The takeaway: Employers must be precise in communicating entitlement rights to FMLA eligible employees. Even reporting slip ups can submarine an employer in a lawsuit.
Cite: McFadden v. Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll.
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