When an employer terminates an employee shortly after an employee requests a leave from work due to a medical condition, several possible causes of action may exist. One of those causes of action is under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which entitles qualifying employees to take reasonable leave for medical reasons and upon return to work within a 12-week period, the employee must be to be restored to the same or similar job at the same pay. Causes of action available to an employee under the FMLA may arise under two different theories as employers are prohibited from: (1) interfering with an employee’s exercise of the right to take reasonable leave for medical reasons; and (2) discriminating or retaliating against an employee who exercises this right. FMLA interference claims concern the denial of a benefit or protection afforded by the FMLA, whereas FMLA retaliation claims pertain to whether an employer used an employee’s FMLA leave as a negative factor in its decision to terminate employment.
In Poff v. Prime Care Medical, Inc. (M. D. Pa. no. 13-cv-03066) (June 14, 2016) (Schwab, M. J.), the Court found in favor of the employee, a licensed practical nurse on her claim that her former employer, violated the FMLA by terminating her employment after she requested medical leave for a serious health condition. The employee claimed that the employer violated the FMLA in two ways: (1) by failing to notify her of her FMLA eligibility and (2) by terminating her because of absences from work due to her serious health condition. In Poff, the employee advised her supervisor, that she was ill and had to leave work and the supervisor called the on-call administrator, to inform him that the employee had left work early and on the same day the employee sent an email requesting FMLA forms. The court found that the request for FMLA forms coupled with the fact that the employee left early after informing the charge nurse that she was ill, was sufficient to place the employer on notice that the FMLA may apply and thereafter there was evidence that the employee had forwarded the FMLA certification form before her termination. The Court found that the employee left work early due to a serious health condition, that she provided the employer with adequate notice of her need to take FMLA leave on the same date and that the employer violated the FMLA by terminating her employment. The Court also found that the employer did not meet its burden of showing that it acted in good faith and that it had reasonable grounds for terminating the employee despite her request for FMLA leave.
In order to prevail in 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. 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. 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.
An employer who violates the FMLA is liable to the employee for damages equal any wages, salary, employment benefits, or other compensation denied or lost by reason of the FMLA violation, interest and an additional amount as liquidated damages, except that if an employer proves to the satisfaction of the court that the act or omission was in good faith and that the employer had reasonable grounds for believing that the act or omission was not a the court may, in the discretion of the court, reduce the amount of the liability. In addition, the employee mat be awarded equitable relief such employment, reinstatement, and promotion.
In Poff, the court denied the Defendant employer’s motion to amend the Court’s findings following a nonjury trial and entered a judgment totaling $200.166 which included out of pocket wage related damages, liquidated damages and interest in the amount of $103,606 plus attorneys’ fees and costs in the amount of $96,599.
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.