Employer Violates FMLA By Terminating Employee Who Takes Leave to Care for Parents

The right to leave under the Family and Medical Leave (FMLA) not only applies to an employee who has a medical reason to take leave from work but can also extend to immediate family members. In Raimondi v. Wyoming County (no. 14-cv-1918) (M. D. Pa. May 24, 2016), the Plaintiff employee filed an FMLA action asserting that she was entitled to FMLA leave due to the serious health conditions experienced by her parents and that the employer failed to restore the employee to her position following her leave and instead terminated her employment.

In Raimondi, two months before the employee was terminated, her father fell and fractured his femur, which required the surgical insertion of a rod and thereafter he entered a nursing home to recover. At the same time, the employee’s mother could not care for herself alone and the employee had to take a leave from work to care for her mother. The employee’s mother suffered from active muscle spasms, Alzheimer’s Disease and heart disease. The employee informed the employer of her need for leave prior to traveling to her parents’ home in Indiana to care for her parents. The Court found that the undisputed evidence demonstrated that the employer failed to restore the employee to her pre-leave position and granted the employee’s motion for partial summary judgment.

The FMLA entitles employees to take reasonable leave for medical reasons, for the birth or adoption of a child, and for the care of a child, spouse, or parent who has a serious health condition. Eligible employees are entitled to 12 work weeks of leave during any twelve-month period. For family member FMLA leave, an eligible employee may take leave to care for a family member’s physical and psychological needs, which may include providing psychological comfort and reassurance which would be beneficial to a child, spouse or parent with a serious health condition who is receiving inpatient or home care. The “needed to care for” term also embraces situations where the employee may be needed to substitute for others who normally care for the family member or to make arrangements for changes in care, such as transfer to a nursing home. The family member to be cared for must have a “serious health condition ” defined as a physical or mental condition involving either inpatient care or continuing treatment involving a period of incapacity or treatment for incapacity. A serious health condition involving continuing treatment by a health care provider includes any period of incapacity or treatment for such incapacity due to a chronic serious health condition which is defined as one which: (1) requires periodic visits for treatment by a health care provider, or by a nurse under direct supervision of a health care provider; (2) continues over an extended period of time (including recurring episodes of a single underlying condition); and (3) may cause episodic rather than a continuing period of incapacity such as asthma, diabetes or epilepsy.

While an employee seeking FMLA leave must state a qualifying reason for the needed leave, the employee does not need to expressly assert FMLA rights or even mention the FMLA or ask for FMLA forms. In any circumstance where the employer does not have sufficient information about the reason for an employee’s use of leave, the employer is required to inquire further to ascertain whether the employee’s leave is potentially FMLA-qualifying.

Generally, FMLA leave is unpaid. The FMLA, however permits an eligible employee to substitute accrued paid leave for FMLA leave. If an employee does not choose to substitute accrued paid leave, the employer may require the employee to substitute accrued paid leave for unpaid FMLA leave and the regulations provide that the paid leave provided by the employer, and accrued pursuant to established policies of the employer, will run concurrently with the unpaid FMLA leave.

The FMLA contains two relatively distinct provisions prohibiting employers from: (1) interfering with an employee’s exercise of their right to take reasonable leave for medical reasons; and (2) discriminating or retaliating against an employee who exercises this right. An interference claim derives from the denial of some benefit or protection afforded by the FMLA, whereas retaliation actions pertain to whether an employer used an employee’s FMLA leave as a negative factor in its decision to terminate her employment.

To state a FMLA interference claim, an employee must establish: (1) the employee was an eligible employee under the FMLA; (2) the employer was subject to the FMLA’s requirements; (3) the employee was entitled to FMLA leave; (4) the employee provided notice to the employer of the intention to take FMLA leave; and (5) the employee was denied benefits to which the employee was entitled under the FMLA. In Raimondi, the Court found that the employee fulfilled each of these requirements; thus, the employer committed a FMLA interference violation and the court ordered the case should proceed to trial only on the issue of damages.

For more information on the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Abramson Employment Law see http://www.job-discrimination.com/lawyer-attorney-1126523.html.

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Filed under Employment DIscrimination, FMLA

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