FMLA lawsuits were up in 2003, but FMLA law is siding with employers more often

by on January 13, 2010 · 19 Comments POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Employers seem to be doing a better job complying with FMLA law

While the number of FMLA lawsuits filed increased slightly, from 3,501 in 2002 to 3,565 in 2003, the number of findings against employers dropped by 4.7%, from 1,735 to 1,654.

Major triggers of FMLA lawsuits

It looks as though managers understand FMLA law – for the most part. According to government figures, the primary reasons for FMLA complaints against employees were:

  • Firing employees who requested FMLA leave. These claims rose by 4.3% in 2003.
  • Refusal to grant leave (up 10%).
  • Refusal to restore employee to equivalent position (down 7.5%).
  • Failure to maintain health benefits while on FMLA leave (down 35.2%).

These figures indicate areas where managers seem to be getting it – and areas where managers ought to be doing a better job avoiding FMLA lawsuits.

HR should remind managers that if the organization has more than 50 employees, it must honor requests for leave from eligible workers with a legitimate need for FMLA leave.

Here are some examples of recent FMLA lawsuits.

Source: FMLANews.

Loss of bonus leave didn’t violate FMLA law

Here’s a variation on FMLA lawsuits: A worker sued because he lost bonus time off as a result of taking FMLA leave.

Tough bananas, a court said. The worker wasn’t denied a monetary attendance bonus because of FMLA leave, which would have been against FMLA law.

The bonus time off was a benefit, not salary, and the employer didn’t have to give the worker an unearned benefit just because of FMLA.

The worker took paid sick leave as his FMLA time off. Because the bonus was based on not taking sick leave, he lost the bonus – fair and square.

Cite: Chubb v. City of Omaha.

More FMLA lawsuits: Worker sued after refusing family medical leave

Company met its FMLA law obligations by offering employee leave

If you offer an employee FMLA leave but he refuses it, then turns around and sues you for depriving him of his rights under FMLA law, could he win in court?

Facts of the case

An employee told his boss that he was planning to undergo gender reassignment surgery. When informed that he qualified for leave under FMLA law, he refused because he didn’t want to provide medical certification. Instead, he took personal leave.

Under the employer’s personal leave policy, the employee was entitled to up to 13 weeks off. At the expiration of the leave, he could return to work if a position was available, but his pre-leave position wouldn’t be held for him.

After recovering from surgery, the employee – who was now a female – requested reinstatement. Although her pre-leave job wasn’t available, she was rehired for another position.

Two months later, she was fired for poor performance. She filed a lawsuit, claiming that her employer had violated FMLA law by giving her personal leave instead of FMLA leave.

The jury’s verdict

A jury found in favor of the employer. The jury believed that the employee had been offered family medical leave in accordance with FMLA law and had refused it. Back when the employee was a male, he’d made an informed decision not to provide medical certification and to take the company’s personal leave instead of FMLA leave.

In the eyes of FMLA law, the employer met its obligation by informing the employee of his eligibility for family medical leave.

Cite: Sanders v. May Dept. Stores, U.S. Court of Appeals, 8th Circuit, No. 01-3344, 1/9/03.

Employer properly denied leave under FMLA law

Employees seeking FMLA leave for personal sickness (as opposed to caring for a sick family member or having or adopting a child) must show that they have a serious health condition, that they’re incapacitated and that they can’t perform the basic duties of their jobs. A doctor’s note describing the worker’s diagnosis and treatment isn’t necessarily enough, as this case shows.

Two workers who were anxious about a coworker who’d harassed them in the past called in sick. They even got doctors’ notes saying that they were being treated for stress.

But the company didn’t buy their claims, and denied them FMLA leave.

The employees filed FMLA lawsuits, claiming that their rights under FMLA law had been violated. In court, the judge ruled against them.

True, they’d sought professional help from mental health-care providers and they’d been treated for a bona fide medical condition (stress).

But they couldn’t show any medical reason for why they were unable to work.

In reaching its decision, the court noted that the two employees spent their “sick days” performing routine daily activities – and that they could just as easily have been performing their jobs.

Cite: Jarvis v. Gerstenslager Co.

  • rich

    can my employer force me to take fmla when I am going to have surgery. iasked for short term disability. they are also going to take 5 days of vacation time away, is this legal

  • alan beasley

    are owner/members counted as employees under FMLA

  • Glenda C.

    My daughter is out of work after surgery – covered by FMLA – her manager has suddenly decided to make her job part-time even though she was hired as a full time employee with other responsibilities to relieve switch board, etc. Now she has moved part of those duties to other employees who have been with the company less than six months, my daughter has worked for this particular (Very large health care system which includes several hospitals as well as the health care facility where she works which includes several doctors), off and on for 10 years. What can she do???

    • rliblogs

      Thanks for your comment. We can't respond to questions about specific
      situations or provide legal advice, but we invite other readers to post
      comments or responses to this question. We encourage your daughter to seek
      guidance from her company's HR department or, for legal questions, consult
      an attorney.

    • Rain T.

      (this would be the guideline for returning to work) When they return from leave, FMLA guidelines require that companies return employees to their former position, assuming they are able to perform the essential functions of that position. If the employee is no longer able to perform his or her previous job, an alternative position with the same benefits, salary, and work hours must be provided to the disabled employee.

  • Shellyg

    My niece was denied a day off to take her mother 3 hours away for a surgery! Does this qualify as FMLA?

  • Shellyg

    My niece was denied a day off to take her mother 3 hours away for a surgery! Does this qualify as FMLA?

    • rliblogs

      Thanks for your comment. We can't respond to questions about specific
      situations or provide legal advice, but we invite other readers to post
      comments or responses to this question. We encourage you to seek guidance
      from your HR department or, for legal questions, consult an attorney.

      Michael Boyette
      Executive Editor
      Rapid Learning Institute
      PO Box A
      Morton, PA 19070

      mboyette@rapidlearninginstitute.com
      484-479-2715

    • GedfwaKH

      Per http://fmlaonline.com/fmla-pregnancy/

      1. What is the Family and Medical Leave Act?
      “The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires larger employers to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to employees who either have a serious health condition themselves, or must care for a seriously ill family member.”

      I would say that it does qualify. But I would ask her Dr. or A Dr. to be sure.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for your comment. We can’t respond to questions about specific
    situations or provide legal advice, but we invite other readers to post
    comments or responses to this question. We encourage you to seek guidance
    from your HR department or, for legal questions, consult an attorney.

    Michael Boyette
    Executive Editor
    Rapid Learning Institute
    PO Box A
    Morton, PA 19070

    mboyette@rapidlearninginstitute.com
    484-479-2715

  • Molloysk

    I am on FMLA for stress related to unethical practices by my supervisor. Received two calls today from employee asking what was up because my supervisor shared with the entire staff that I was on medical leave due to a personal medical condition. Can he do this?

  • Sandra Fulton

    Who would I check with to see if it is done wrigh. A t my work If husband and wife work at same place and one get sick ,has surgery or something and the other is needed to help take care of the other one thay have to share the 12 weeks. Is this wright or how can I check on it.

  • potsnpans

    can an employer require you to make up work or repay people who covered your shifts when on a fmla.

  • Klauspabst

    I got a permanent illness for the last 30years now!
    Do I have to aply for fmla every year?

  • Klauspabst

    I got a permanent illness for the last 30years now!
    Do I have to aply for fmla every year?

  • Kcsc91

    I am on FMLA right now from having surgery. Does my work have the right to insist on more info other than what my doctor has written? They are wanting what I think is personal info and none of there buisness. I was told if I didnt provide this I would in a round about way, lose my job.

  • Kcsc91

    I am on FMLA right now from having surgery. Does my work have the right to insist on more info other than what my doctor has written? They are wanting what I think is personal info and none of there buisness. I was told if I didnt provide this I would in a round about way, lose my job.

  • John

    I am a supervisor in a company that has 3 shifts and around 150 supervisors and they have decided to change our days off and the shift we work on by using an Hours Worked system; and they are including time missed because of LOA and FMLA. Which means if I was out on FMLA I have to go from the best shift to the worst. Can they do that?

  • Lbremseth

    My clinic is merging with the Hospital, I am having a C-section July 2nd and will need to transfer to hospital insurance at this time, however I was told I would no longer be granted FMLA for maternnity d/t I will not have been working at he hospital for 1 year yet. I will still be working at the clinic and have already worked longer than a year with them, but will now be expected to pay my premiums on leave, which the clinic would have paid if not merging, should I not be grandfathred in. please help.

Close

Request a Free Demo

We'd love to show you how this industry-leading training system can help you develop your team. Please fill out this quick form or give us a call at 877-792-2172 to schedule your one-on-one demo with a Rapid Learning Specialist.