Most employees believe they can rely on the representations their employers make to them. For instance, if you submit a request for FMLA leave and your employer approves it, why wouldn't you believe you could rely on that approval? But, there have been cases where an employer approved FMLA leave under the mistaken belief that the employee was eligible. Once the mistaken was uncovered, the employer rescinded the leave. So, what can you do if this happens to you?
Who is covered under the FMLA?
The FMLA, or the Family and Medical Leave Act, basically protects employees who need to take leave from work for medical reasons. The Act requires employers to keep the employee's position (or a comparable one) available when they return. However, the FMLA does not protect every employee. To be covered by the FMLA, you must work for an employer that has 50 or more employees, working within a 75-mile radius. Also, the employee must have been employed for at least 12 months and have worked 1,250 hours during the 12-month period before the start of the requested leave.
What if your employer says you are eligible?
In most cases, if your employer approves your FMLA leave, the employer must follow through with that representation. Why? Because the law allows employers to be more generous than what is required by the law. In other words, an employer has the ability to voluntarily relax the FMLA eligibility requirements, for example, for the benefit of its employees. On the other hand, an employer can still raise the defense of non-eligibility in some cases. Whether or not you have an FMLA claim depends on the situation.
Weissberg v. Chalfant Manufacturing Co., Inc.
Consider the case of Weissberg v. Chalfant Manufacturing Co., Inc. The employee, Ms. Weissberg, had worked for her employer for over 40 years. She needed to have surgery for a hernia and requested medical leave, which was granted. Before she actual went out on leave, the company's controller informed her that her job was protected under the Family and Medical Leave Act. But, that was not actually the case. The company did not have enough employees to be covered by the FMLA. Consequently, when Ms. Weissberg tried to return to work after her leave, she learned that her position had been eliminated. In light of the representation the controller made to her, she filed a lawsuit under the FMLA.
When non-eligibility is not a defense
There are cases where non-eligibility is not a defense. In those case the following facts must be proven:
- the employer misrepresented something important about FMLA;
- the plaintiff relied on it; and
- she was harmed
This was not the case in Weissberg, where the court found it was unreasonable to rely on the statement concerning FMLA-eligibility from a company controller, whose job responsibilities did not involve HR functions. This was not a case where an employee relied on misleading FMLA policy language, for instance. Again, the viability of your claim depends on the specific facts of your case.
If you feel you have been denied your rights under the FMLA, or if you have any questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced employment attorneys at Michel | King , either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.