Court decision on FMLA rules sends a message to employers

In cases about FMLA guidelines, 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 leave.

As most HR pros know, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 excludes from eligibility anyone who’s job site has less than fifty company employees within a 75 mile circle of the job site.

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

In touch with headquarters
Nancy Harbert worked in a nursing home as a laundry department supervisor. While she spent almost all her working hours at the 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 guidelines. And she won – even though her employer employed fewer than 50 people within 75 miles of the home where Harbert worked.

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

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