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Company sued after failing to inform employee of FMLA policy

A man won his wrongful termination lawsuit last month after alleging that his employer failed to effectively communicate the company's Family and Medical Leave Act benefits policy. The man, who had used unpaid leave benefits to recover from a shoulder injury, returned to work to find that he had been fired because of too many unexcused absences, despite assurances that his job would be protected. The court found that the company had not adequately explained its policy regarding employees' leave rights.

Workers in California and across the entire U.S. are eligible for FMLA leave if they work for a company with 50 or more employees and have been employed for at least 12 months, with more than 1,250 hours logged. People oftentimes use FMLA leave to care for sick loved ones, to recover from the birth of a child or to nurse other injuries. California employers and other employers in the U.S. can calculate FMLA leave balances by using two different methods: the calendar method and the rolling method.

The rolling method calculates the return date backward from the date any FMLA leave is used, while the calendar method provides 12 weeks of leave during the calendar year. The fired man's employer used the rolling method, but the employee thought he was covered under the calendar method, which resulted in the employer expecting the man to return to work on June, 13, 2005 and the employee expecting to return to work on June 27. This miscommunication resulted in his termination, which was deemed inappropriate by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

This case underscores the importance of communication about FMLA and other policies within an organization. Companies should distribute comprehensive employee handbooks that clearly explain FMLA guidelines and also whether the group adheres to the rolling or calendar methods for calculating one's leave.

Source: Business Insurance, "Employer did not communicate FMLA policy, can't fire worker: Appeals court," Jan. 22, 2012