Check the Basics Before Approving FMLA Claim

On October 9, 2013, the First Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling discussing employee rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). The case, McArdle v Town of Dracut, is discussed below.

What You Need To Know.  Always verify an employee’s eligibility for FMLA before granting leave but make sure you don’t retaliate against an employee who request leave or inquires about leave even if the employee is not eligible for FMLA leave.

While employers with more than 50 employees working in a 75 mile radius of each other are subject to the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), employees need to establish that they are eligible under the FMLA before taking leave.  One of the most basic FMLA requirements is that the employee must have worked for the employer for more than 12 months (not necessarily consecutively) and must have worked 1250 hours in the past 12 months.  Sick days or vacation days are not calculated towards hours worked.  If an employee cannot meet these requirements, the employee is not entitled to FMLA leave even if the employee has a qualifying medical condition.  

The First Circuit ruled that the lower court properly dismissed the FMLA claim brought by McArdle because he had only worked 82 days in the previous school year.  Since the teacher had not actually worked 1250 hours in the past 12 months, the court held that he was not eligible for FMLA leave and could not bring suit against the Town for refusing his request for FMLA.   

McArdle also argued that the Town retaliated against him for requesting FMLA when it fired him.  The court ruled that McArdle was fired for excessive absenteeism not for requesting FMLA.  Because of this, the court dismissed the retaliation claim.  In its ruling, however, the court noted that an employee who was not eligible for FMLA might still be able to bring an FMLA retaliation claim if an employer truly punished the employee for asking about FMLA leave.  While this is an unsettled area of law, employers should not punish employees for asking about FMLA leave even if the employee is not eligible for leave.

Administering leave under the FMLA is a complicated and frustrating responsibility.  EmCo can help you review or establish an FMLA compliant leave program that integrates your responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) as well.  Please contact EmCo if you have questions about the FMLA, the ADA, or attendance management.