September 6, 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.  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. 

As background, the FMLA applies to employers employing 50 or more employees.  It provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in the event of birth or adoption or placement for adoption, for the serious health condition of the employee, or the serious 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.

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.  During the course of FMLA leave, the school replaced her position.  When the employee returned from leave, the school offered her a regular teaching position which 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, that they can be returned to their same or equivalent position. 

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 communicate 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.


The information contained in this Benefit Beat is not intended to be legal, accounting, or other professional advice, nor are these comments directed to specific situations.

As required by U.S. Treasury rules, we inform you that, unless expressly stated otherwise, any U.S. federal tax advice contained in this Benefit Beat is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by any person for the purpose of avoiding any penalties that may be imposed by the Internal Revenue Service.

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