Handbook FMLA Policy Wording Spells Doom for Employer in Lawsuit

Document created by 1002070 on Feb 27, 2015Last modified by 1002070 on Mar 10, 2017
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Pat Rountree.jpgDo you see anything wrong with the following employee handbook policy statement?


Employees covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act are full-time employees who have worked for the Road Commission and accumulated 1,250 work hours in the previous 12 months.


Hopefully, your answer is yes.  It is partially correct, but fails to state in addition to the above that to be eligible the employees have to work at a location that has 50 employees within 75 miles.  Also, employees do not have to be full time, they just have to meet the 12 months service requirement and have worked 1250 hours in the previous 12 months, in addition to working at a covered location.


This omission resulted in an employee being able to bring an FMLA retaliation suit against the employer even though he was not eligible under the law.  The employer was a public agency that was covered by FMLA, but the employees themselves were not covered because there were not 50 employees within 75 miles.  [Note: Public agencies are covered by FMLA even if they don’t have 50 employees, but the employee eligibility requirements are the same as private employers.]


The suit involved an employee who was on a final warning for failure to complete assignments in a timely manner.  He was advised that another failure to turn in assignments when due would result in termination.   On the day the assignments were due, the employee became ill at work and had a co-worker take him to the hospital, saying he thought he was having a heart attack.  He was admitted for observation and released.  His wife called to say he would be out of work for a few days.  Initially, the employer sent FMLA paperwork to complete, but then terminated him several days later for failure to turn in his assignment on time after they determined he was not eligible for FMLA.  The employee filed suit against his employer, making several claims, one of which was that they retaliated against him for taking protected FMLA.  The employer denied his claim saying that he was not eligible for FMLA because he didn’t work at a facility with 50 employees within 75 miles.


The employee said he relied on the handbook language (he had been an employee since 1993 and met the service and hours worked requirement).  The court agreed that, based on the language in the handbook, even though he was not eligible under the law, the employer had made him eligible by the language in the handbook.  It didn’t help their case that they had sent out FMLA paperwork to him, but mostly the court looked at the employee’s reliance on the handbook eligibility language.


While this case has other issues that may give pause (terminating someone who didn’t turn in an assignment because he went to the hospital on the day it was due, and the manager sending him FMLA paperwork although he was not eligible), the court focused on the language in the handbook policy in allowing the employee’s suit to go forward.


Details of the case may be viewed at http://www.ca6.uscourts.gov/opinions.pdf/15a0013p-06.pdf.


Do you offer FMLA coverage to employees who work at facilities that do not have 50 employees within 75 miles?  Please participate in our one question quiz.  Do you offer FMLA coverage to employees who work at outlying facilities?



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