Of course, you know how to respond to FMLA requests. But you also know managers need to see you when they get a request — and that they don’t always do it.
As HR pros know, employees don’t qualify for FMLA leave if:
- they work in a location with fewer than 50 employees in a 75-mile radius
- they don’t have a “serious medical condition,” or
- they don’t meet the law’s 12-month/1,250-hour requirement.
But too often, managers mistakenly tell those employees they can take medical leave. That can cause huge legal problems later.
In one case, an employee found out she needed surgery. She scheduled the operation and asked her manager for FMLA, which he approved.
While she was gone, HR discovered she hadn’t met the 1,250-hour requirement. When she came back, her job was gone, due to a restructuring that took place while she was away.
Despite not being eligible for leave in the first place, she sued. She claimed her manager led her to believe she was eligible, and she would have rescheduled the surgery for a later date if she knew that wasn’t the case. The judge agreed, and the company lost the case (Cite: Kosakow v. New Rochelle Radiology Associates, P.C.).
Watch those handbooks
Another recent case involved a company with two locations: its main building and a smaller plant that had fewer than 50 employees and was more than 75 miles from headquarters. Employees in both places were given a copy of the same handbook — which included an explanation of FMLA rights that didn’t mention the size requirement.
An employee at the smaller plant took time off for an illness. He never specifically asked for FMLA leave. But apparently, his supervisor didn’t know he didn’t qualify for FMLA and didn’t tell him beforehand that the absences wouldn’t be allowed.
When he came back to work he was fired. He sued, claiming he was led to believe he was eligible for leave, so he couldn’t be fired for taking it. The court agreed (Cite: Myers v. Tursso Co.).
Steps to take now
Education and training is the key to preventing those problems. Two things companies can do to avoid being trapped into offering more than the law requires:
Keep policies up-to-date — It’s important to keep track of who’s covered and who isn’t and give the right policies to the right people. Also, to limit confusion, policies should mention all of the law’s eligibility requirements.
Train managers — Supervisors need to be aware of who’s eligible for leave, since they’re the first point of contact when employees need time off. They should be trained on the law’s requirements and told to bring FMLA issues to HR before approving or denying anything.