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October 26, 2012

FMLA litigation offers important reminders

Recent litigation relating to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) offers important reminders about the significance of scrupulous compliance. As background, the FMLA applies to employers with 50 or more employees.

It provides workers with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the following events:
  • birth, adoption or placement for adoption
  • a serious health condition of the employee
  • a severe health condition of a family member

In addition, the FMLA provides leave for a military exigency or up to 26 weeks of leave in the event the employee is needed to care for a service member. The law guarantees return to the same or equivalent position at the end of the leave. It also requires that health coverage be continued during the leave.

The below cases are two different examples that relate to FMLA. One case addresses the issue of what constitutes return to the same or equivalent position; the other relates to providing information about how to retain health coverage.

The Wanamaker case

In the Wanamaker case (Wanamaker v. Westport Board of Education et al, Case Number 3:2011cv01791, U. S. District Court, District Court of Connecticut), the issue of what constitutes an equivalent position was addressed.

In this case, the employee was a computer teacher, and the school replaced her position during the course of FMLA leave. When the employee returned from leave, the school offered her a regular teaching position that was deemed not to be equivalent to the special teacher position. This is a good reminder to employers who have employees out on FMLA leave -- it is very important to ensure that when the person returns, the same or equivalent position is available.

The Rodriguez case

In another recent case (Rodriguez v. Atria Senior Living Group, Inc., 2012 WL 3457718 (S.D.N.Y. 2012), the U. S. District Court for the Southern District of New York is reviewing whether health coverage was impermissibly terminated. Whatever the ultimate outcome of this decision, it is essential that the employer clearly communicates the right to continue health coverage during FMLA-designated leave, including any details about how and when health premium must be paid. This information should be included in the rights and responsibilities notice that is provided to employees at the time FMLA leave is requested.

Please be sure to check back on our blog as I’ll be continuing my coverage on this and other industry related issues affecting employers and their employees.


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