Under FMLA, some employees aren’t eligible for leave. But that doesn’t mean they can’t sue their employers for FMLA mistakes.
In one recent case, an employee took some time off for surgery. While he was gone, the company put someone else in his position.
When he came back to work, his boss told him his job had been filled. The company offered him a new position, which he turned down. He was terminated, and he sued under FMLA.
The company’s defense was clear-cut: The employee wasn’t on FMLA leave, since he wasn’t eligible for FMLA. The company’s headquarters had more than 50 workers, but the man worked out of his home, more than 75 miles away.
The company claimed it had just given him some time off — without the obligation to put him back in the same or similar position.
But the employee won the case. Why? A glitch in the handbook.
The company’s leave policy explained employees’ rights under FMLA and listed all the eligibility requirements — except the “50/75” rule. When the employee told his boss he needed leave for surgery, he was sent a letter restating the handbook’s FMLA policy.
That gave him reason to assume he was taking FMLA-protected leave, the court ruled — so the company had essentially trapped itself into offering it.
Prevent managers’ mistakes
As if FMLA wasn’t tricky enough, there are ways employers get in trouble even when employees aren’t covered by the law, as this case shows.
In other cases, employees who hadn’t worked for 12 months or 1,250 hours have been mistakenly told by managers they could take FMLA — and then sued when they came back and didn’t get put in their old jobs.
To avoid this costly blunder, here are three steps all employers can take:
- Check policies. A good FMLA policy tells employees their legal rights and all the requirements they need to meet to be eligible. If you have to, give employees at different locations different versions of the handbook so there’s no confusion.
- Train managers. Managers need to know who’s eligible for leave and who isn’t. Otherwise, employees might be told something that conflicts with the law.
- Make sure HR handles all leave requests. Managers should always come to HR first when an employee needs leave. Make sure they understand the problems that can come up when supervisors approve or deny leave on their own.
Cite: Peters v. Gilead Sciences, Inc.