FMLA regulations: The 75-mile rule

by on January 14, 2010 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

The FMLA’s 75-mile rule is a major headache for employers and HR managers.

When is a work site not a work site under FMLA regulations?

Employee-friendly court decision sends a message to employers

In FMLA cases, courts will usually look for wiggle room to make employees eligible.

That’s why it’s a good idea for employers to do the same before denying a request for FMLA leave.

As most HR pros know, FMLA excludes from eligibility anyone who works at a work site if the employer employs fewer than 50 people within 75 miles of that site.

Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Not always, as this case demonstrates.

She worked in headquarters, according to FMLA regulations

Nancy Harbert worked in a nursing home as a laundry department supervisor. While she spent almost all her working hours at the nursing home, she kept in telephone contact with corporate headquarters – located more than 75 miles from where she worked. And she visited headquarters sometimes – less than once a month.

Harbert requested FMLA leave and was denied because the nursing home had fewer than 50 employees. She filed a lawsuit claiming her employer violated FMLA regulations. And she won – even though her employer employed fewer than 50 people within 75 miles of the nursing home where Harbert worked.

Why did Harbert win her case? Because the court determined headquarters – not the nursing home – was her work site. And while 50 employees were not employed within 75 miles of the nursing home, more than 50 were employed within 75 miles of headquarters.

Cite: Harbert v. Healthcare Services Group, U.S. Court of Appeals, 10th Circuit, No. 03-1156, 12/13/04.

-FMLA regulations require counting your telecommuters

Defining ‘work site’ under FMLA is trickier than you may think

Firms that make “knee-jerk” assumptions about FMLA eligibility rules could pay a steep price in a court of law, as this case illustrates.

Vicki Collinsworth, an account executive for a major Internet service provider, worked from her home office. She received assignments via e-mail, fax and phone from the regional field office where her supervisor worked.

Denied FMLA leave

After she was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome, Collinsworth requested FMLA leave. Her request was denied.

Shortly thereafter, she was fired, in part, said her boss, because of her health problems. Collinsworth filed a lawsuit claiming that her rights under FMLA were violated.

In court, the employer argued that FMLA regulations deemed Collinsworth ineligible for leave because the company had fewer than 50 employees at the office where Collinsworth received assignments.

No dice. Collinsworth won because, when calculating eligibility, the employer overlooked its many telecommuters. In reaching its decision the court noted that under FMLA regulations a “work site” can refer to either a single location or to a group of nearby locations.

An employee’s work site will ordinarily be the place where the employee reports to work. However, when an employee works from home, her work site is the place where her assignments originate.

When determining family medical leave eligibility, count the people who get their marching orders from your office, not just those who physically step through the door every day.

Cite: Collinsworth v. Earthlink/Onemain, Inc., U.S. District Court, District of Kansas, 03-299-GTV, 12/4/03.

FMLA regulations finally put the ball in the employers court

Score one for employers in the never-ending struggle for sanity over the FMLA.

A federal court ruled for the Louisiana employer of a worker who was trying to bend the 75-mile rule out of shape.

The rule says if there are fewer than 50 company employees within 75 miles of an employee’s work site, he or she can’t take FMLA leave. The employee said the 75 miles should be measured as the crow flies, which would have entitled him to leave.

Nonsense, the court said.

FMLA regulations say that the distance must be measured by the shortest means of surface transportation. The whole purpose of the 75-mile exception was to relieve pressure on employers who would have to send a replacement a long way, usually by road, if an employee at a remote site took FMLA leave.

Cite: Bellum v. PCE Constructors.

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