Sunday, 07 April 2013 12:57

Employee's rights under FMLA - A Cautionary Tale for Employers

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If you are an employer with more than 50 employees in a 75 mile radius the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) applies to your business. On March 27, 2013, in Dollar vs. Smithway Motor Xpress the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a finding that Smithwayviolated Ms. Dollar’s FMLA rights by firing her after she asked for leave to deal with depression.   Ms. Dollar had been employed as a Driver Manager for Smithway, an Iowa trucking company, since March 2006. 


An employee must be employed for twelve (12) months to qualify for family medical leave. If an employee has been employed for 12 months, an employee is entitled to twelve (12) weeks of family medical leave in a calendar year for a serious health condition of the employee or a family member.  A serious health condition is one requiring inpatient care or the continuing treatment of a health care provider. An employee is entitled to up to twenty-six (26) weeks of family medical leave to take care of a covered service family member who has a serious injury or illness in a calendar year.  A serious injury or illness of a covered service member includes an injury or illness that was incurred in the line of duty in active duty or was a preexisting condition that was aggravated in the line of duty in active duty.  
The employee is entitled to be restored to the same or comparable position after returning to work thatthe employee had before taking the leave.  There is an exception for employees who hold a key position with the employer that would cause the employer substantial and grievous economic harm to have the employee restored to the key position.

On June 10, 2007, Dollar requested time off work to deal with depression until June 19, 2007.  She subsequently extended the request for leave to July 19, 2007.  Smithway reacted to Dollar’s request for additional time by advising Dollar that she would no longer be hold the position of a driver manager and would hold the position of driver recruiter upon her return.  On July 5, 2007, Dollar requested an additional thirty (30) days off from work due to her depression.  Smithway’s response was to fire Dollar.  Dollar sued for FMLA interference and retaliation.  It violates the FMLA for an employer to interfere, restrain or deny an employee’s request for family medical leave.  Terminating an employee who requests family medical leave qualifies as interference.  It made no difference that Dollar did not use the term “family medical leave” when requesting time off.  The trigger for FMLA protection was her was the fact that she asked for leave because of a serious health condition.

Lesson: If an employee is requesting time off work to deal with a serious health condition personally;to care for a family member who has a serious health condition; or a covered service family member who has a serious injury or illness, make sure that your businessis treating such requests in compliance with FMLA.  If you need any guidance about what the FMLA requires, or any other employment matter, please contact our office.

Read 77680 times Last modified on Sunday, 07 April 2013 13:01
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