Employer Beware: Family Medical Leave Act

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitles eligible employees to a total of twelve (12) workweeks of leave during any twelve (12) month period for one or more of the following reasons: a) due to the birth of a child and to care for the child; b) to care for a child who was placed with the employee for adoption or foster care; c) to care for a spouse, son, daughter or parent of the employee suffering from a serious health condition; d) an employee is suffering from a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the functions of the employee’s position; and e) qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that the spouse, son, daughter or parent of an employee is on covered active duty in the Armed Forces. 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1)(A-E).

Under the FMLA, it is unlawful for an employer to interfere with an employee’s attempt to exercise any FMLA rights. 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(1). It is also unlawful and prohibited for an employer to retaliate against an employee for exercising or attempting to exercise FMLA rights. 29 C.F.R. § 825.220(c); King v. Preferred Technical Group, 166 F. 3d 887, 892 (7th Cir. 1999).

To prevail on an FMLA interference claim, plaintiff-employee must show that: (1) employee was eligible for the FMLA’s protections; (2) employer was covered by FMLA; (3) employee was entitled to leave under the FMLA; (4) employee provided sufficient notice of her intent to take leave; and (5) employer denied the employee FMLA benefits to which the employee was entitled. Burnett v. LFW Inc., 472 F. 3d 471, 477 (7th Cir. 2006); Daugherty v. Wabash Ctr., Inc., 577 F. 3d 747, 750 (7th Cir. 2009).

An employee is eligible for FMLA protections if the employee has been employed for at least twelve (12) months by the employer and the employee has performed at least 1,250 hours of service for the employer during the previous twelve (12) month period. 29 U.S.C. § 2611(2)(A)(i-ii). An employer is subject to the FMLA if the employer engages in an activity affecting commerce and “employs 50 or more employees for each working day during each of 20 or more calendar workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year.” 29 U.S.C. § 2611(4)(A)(i).

With respect to the notice requirement, the employee must provide sufficient notice to take leave; however, the “notice requirements of the FMLA are not onerous.” Burnett v. LFW Inc., 472 F. 3d 471, 477 (7th Cir. 2006). The “employee need not expressly mention the FMLA in his leave request or otherwise invoke any of its provisions.” Id. Instead, the employee need only provide “information sufficient to show that he likely has an FMLA-qualifying condition.” Id. “The employee’s duty is merely to place the employer on notice of a probable basis for FMLA leave.” Aubuchon v. Knauf Fiberglass, GmbH, 359 F. 3d 950, 953 (7th Cir. 2004). Finally, the employee must have requested leave and been wrongfully denied leave pursuant to the FMLA.

If you are an employee who has been wrongfully terminated or you are an employer and need advice on how to handle FMLA claims, please contact attorney Jennifer S. Burt at (312) 888-4111 or jburt@lavellelaw.com.