FMLA interference claims

A Closer Look at the Family and Medical Leave Act

Numerous cases are brought against employers for Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) interference, but most of them can be avoided if only employers knew more about this Act.  We hope this article will be helpful to employers in understanding the Act. The Family and Medical Leave Act (1993) was established to grant family and temporary medical leave under the following circumstances: care for a baby after childbirth, placement of a child with an employee for adoption or foster care, care for an immediate family member if they have a serious health condition, a serious health condition that makes an employee unable to perform the functions of their position, and qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that employee’s immediate family member is on covered active duty in the Armed Forces.

According to the FMLA, an employee can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid job-protected leave in a 12 month period.  This time can be taken at once or in intervals, but employees should keep track of their days of FMLA leave so that they do not exceed the allotted 12 weeks.  To comply with FMLA Intermittent Leave provisions an employee needs to give only 2 days notice of tardiness or absence, but they should provide supportive documentation for this leave (medical documentation, etc.).  If an FMLA interference claim has been filed against an employer, the employer can defeat it by showing that an employee did not take leave for a purpose authorized by the Act.

If an employee requests intermittent leave or leave on a reduced leave schedule based on planned medical treatment, the employer may require such employee to transfer temporarily to an available alternative position that will better accommodate recurring periods of leave than the regular employment position, but an employee needs to be qualified for this position and the latter should have equivalent pay and benefits.

Any employer who violates the FMLA shall be liable to an eligible employee for damages in the amount of wages, salary, employment benefits or other compensation denied, as well as monetary losses, interest on the amount described and other equitable relief including employment, reinstatement, and promotion.

For the original FMLA document, please visit the following link at the U.S. Department of Labor:

http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/statutes/fmla.htm.

Employers Fight FMLA Abuse

Under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) eligible employees have the right to take up to 12 weeks of leave per year.  The FMLA prohibits an employer from restraining, denying or interfering with the exercise of any right given under the Act.  However, employers can defeat FMLA interference claims if they show that an employee did not take leave for a purpose authorized by the Act. Recently, two Federal Courts of Appeals have allowed some degree of employee surveillance.  They held that if an employee has not been reinstated after his or her leave and subsequently filed an FMLA interference claim, the employer only needs to show that they refused to reinstate the employee based on an honest suspicion that the employee was abusing his or her leave in order to defeat the claim.

In one of these cases, the employer terminated the employee because the employer had an honest suspicion that an employee misused his FMLA leave based on the employee’s previous absenteeism.   As a result, the employer hired a private investigator for a day when the employee requested to take FMLA leave to care for his mother.  The investigator’s video showed that the employee did not even leave the house on that day.  Upon the request for the employee to produce supportive documentation from his mother’s nursing home, the records did not match the employer’s internal paperwork.  The court ruled that the employer’s decision to terminate the employee did not interfere with the employee’s right to reinstatement and thus, defeated the FMLA interference claim.

In a second case, the employer had an honest belief that an employee committed disability fraud in taking FMLA leave.  The employee was given disability leave after he reported severe pain and inability to stand for over 30 minutes.  However, several days later, he was seen by his coworkers at an Oktoberfest standing for over 90 minutes without any signs that his movements caused him pain.  The court ruled that the employer had acted within its rights by terminating the employee.  It is important to note that the decisive question for the court’s ruling was whether his employer reasonably believed that the employee had committed fraud, and not whether he actually committed it.