Did she qualify for leave under FMLA guidelines?

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

Elaine Adler tapped at HR director Lou Capici’s office door. “Is this a good time to talk, Lou?” she asked.

Lou waved her in. “Have a seat, Elaine,” he said. “What’s up?” Elaine worked as a medical technician at a group practice. A week earlier she requested FMLA leave for minor surgery. This morning she learned she’d been turned down.

Do FMLA guidelines care that she arrived early every day?

“There must be some mistake,” she said. “Thing is, I’ve used up all my sick days and personal time, and I need FMLA leave. I don’t understand why my request was denied.”

Lou opened Elaine’s personnel file and took out her time sheets. “I’m sorry, but as you know, FMLA guidelines state that you need to have worked at least 1,250 hours in the past year to qualify for FMLA. According to these records you have logged only 1,186. See?”

Elaine studied the time sheets, which she’d signed each pay period. “I see the problem,” she said. “I arrive 15 minutes early every morning to turn on the x-ray machines, get the office ready and make coffee. I don’t get paid for that time – and that’s OK, I’m not asking you to pay me for it – but I should get FMLA credit for it.”

“No one says you have to be here early,” argued Lou. “It’s your choice.”

Elaine huffed. “But everyone knows if I didn’t, we wouldn’t be ready to receive patients when we open our doors. Oh, and also, the time I spent training to keep my certification current isn’t on these sheets.

“You did that training on your own time, not our time,” said Lou.

Elaine became indignant. “I’ve spoken with an attorney who advertises on TV. He says all those hours count for FMLA – including the training. I’ll sue if I have to!”

They couldn’t agree and the case ended up in court. Was Elaine eligible for FMLA leave?

The decision

Yes. A court found that Elaine was eligible under FMLA guidelines.

In reaching its decision, the judge drew a distinction between voluntarily arriving 15 minutes before the start of a shift to make coffee and arriving early to turn on diagnostic equipment and prepare to receive patients.

Hours unpaid, but not unworked

Even though she wasn’t paid for those 15 minutes, she did perform duties during that time that were central to the office’s daily operations.

While no FMLA guidelines say her employer had to pay her for that time, one does say that the time counts toward FMLA eligibility.

The court ruled that the training Elaine completed to keep her license up to date counted toward her FMLA eligibility as well.

It was true that she completed the training on her own time, and that she wasn’t compensated for the time she spent in class.

However, because Elaine needed the training under her belt in order to be certified, and because she had to stay certified to keep her job, the time she spent in training applied toward FMLA eligibility.

When the training time and the pre-shift prep time were added to her hours worked, Elaine easily exceeded the 1,250-hour requirement.

This case is a reminder: When calculating FMLA eligibility, FMLA guidelines look beyond what’s written on a timesheet – and so should you.

Under FMLA guidelines, “unpaid” doesn’t necessarily mean “unworked.”

Cite: Kosakow v. New Rochelle Radiology Associates, U.S. Court of Appeals, 2nd Circuit. No. 00-7392, 12/20/01. Fictionalized for dramatic effect.

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