Large Employers Aren’t the Only Ones Dealing with FMLA Claims

Large Employers Aren’t the Only Ones Dealing with FMLA Claims

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is applicable to employers with 50 or more employees, so when it comes to small employers, they never really give it any thought. This doesn’t mean smaller employers are off the hook from any employee legal allegations though. In Tilley v. Kalamazoo County Road Commission, the small employer was at fault for telling an employee they were eligible for protected leave when the employer did not meet the requirements of FMLA.

To meet the requirements for FMLA, an employee must meet the following criteria:

  1. they have been employed by a covered employer for 12 months;
  2. they have worked for 1,250 hours during the 12-month period before their requested leave begins; and
  3. they work at a location where their employer employs 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius of that location.

But in the Tilley v. Kalamazoo case, the employer’s policy failed to mention anything regarding the requirement that 50 or more employees must work within 75 miles of the specified work location. So the employee filed a claim against their employer under the FMLA after he was terminated for missing work for his serious health condition.

Tilley filed age and FMLA discrimination charges against his employer, but the age discrimination was thrown out since the employer claimed to have fire him due to his inability to submit work on time. But the FMLA charge is a whole other issue. The District Court granted summary judgement for the employer on the basis that the employee was not eligible for FMLA leave, but the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed this decision. The Appellate Court stated that since the explanation of the 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius was omitted that a “reasonable person in the employee’s position could fairly have believed that he was protected by the FMLA.” The Court did however allow the FMLA claims to be heard by a jury even though he was not eligible for protected leave under the law.

Equitable estoppel was applied, which prevents a party from asserting a legal claim or defense that is inconsistent with his or her prior action or conduct. So in FMLA context, equitable estoppel prevents an employer from defending an FMLA case by arguing that the employee is not entitled to leave when the employer previously misrepresented to the employee that they were.

The Sixth Circuit stated that since the employer granted the employee FMLA rights, even though they did not have to, that they could not take back those FMLA rights that were already granted.

The following are scenarios that employers need to be aware of in regards to FMLA misrepresentation:

  • Company miscalculates number of employees in approving FMLA request.This may be difficult when dealing with temporary or seasonal employees, so it is important to understand who qualifies as an “employee” under FMLA.
  • Company miscalculates total number of hours worked in the previous 12-month period.An accurate time-keeping system is crucial for not only calculating FMLA hours, but for calculating FMLA eligibility.
  • Company with more than 50 employees that also has a distant satellite location.An employee in a small satellite location may not be eligible even if the employer has over 50 employees. The requirement is location specific, so the 50 or more employees need to be within 75 miles of that location.
  • Employer with less than 50 employees offers discretionary leave.Small employers often offer leave of absences for employees to deal with their own serious health issues. This needs to be made clear to employees so they realize it is not covered by FMLA.

Review your policies and procedures, clearly state the requirements, and make sure that all personnel fielding FMLA requests are trained and qualified to do so.

Source: vonBriesen | FMLA – Not Just A Large Employer Concern

For more information contact The information contained in this post, and any attachments, is not intended and should not be misconstrued as legal advice. You should contact your employment, benefits or ERISA attorney for legal direction.