How to Know if You Are Eligible for FMLA Leave
A federal statute known as the FMLA, or the Family and Medical Leave Act, protects employees who need to take leave from work, either for their own medical condition or to care for others. The statute requires employers to keep the employee's position (or a comparable one) available for them when they return. However, the FMLA does not protect every employee of every employer. It is crucial that employees understand the eligibility requirements.
Covered employers and employees
The FMLA provides protection only to "covered" employees, working for "covered" employers. What does that mean? First, the employer must have 50 or more employees, working within a 75-mile radius. Employers with less than 50 employees are not required to comply with the statute.
For an employee to be eligible, he or she must meet the following three requirements:
- have been employed for at least 12 non-consecutive months,
- have worked 1,250 hours during the 12-month period preceding the start of the requested leave; and
- work at a location where the employer employs 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius.
Technically, if an employee does not meet any of these criteria, he or she cannot enjoy the protection of the statute. However, if an employer tells them they are entitled to FMLA leave, that employer must follow through with that representation.
An employer's written policy can provide more protection
In a very recent case, an employer was required to abide by its written FMLA policy, which provided broader eligibility than the FMLA statute. In Tilley v. Kalamazoo County Road Commission, the employer established the following written FMLA policy:
Employees covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act are full-time employees who have worked for the Road Commission and accumulated 1,250 work hours in the previous 12 months.
The problem with this policy is that it clearly leaves out the requirement that employees work at a location that employs 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius. Therefore, when this employer denied the plaintiff's request for FMLA leave, based on the 75-mile requirement, the Court rejected this argument. Because, this requirement was unambiguous and excluded this particular requirement, the employer was required to abide by its written policy.
Employees are allowed to rely on employer's FMLA policy
In rejecting the employer's argument that the plaintiff was not eligible for FMLA leave, the court said that the employer certainly could have qualified its employee eligibility requirements, by including that its otherwise eligible employees would only be covered by the FMLA if they worked at, or within 75 miles of, a site at which the Road Commission employed at least 50 employees.
Because, the employer in that case failed to do so, the court would not rule, as a matter of law, that the employee was unreasonable in relying on the written FMLA policy established by the employer. The lesson to be learned is that, courts are likely to hold employers accountable to the terms of their FMLA policies, even if they misrepresent an employee's FMLA eligibility.
If you feel you have been wrongfully denied FMLA leave, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact Wrady & Michel, LLC, either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.