Thursday, September 11, 2008

FMLA Technicalities Hurt Employers Too

ScalesEarlier this week, I posted about an employee who missed being eligible for FMLA leave by 12 minutes of work in the prior twelve months. Via BNA Highlights comes Spencer v. Marygrove College, out of the Eastern District of Michigan, no. No. 07-CV-11135, 13 WH Cases 2d 1811 (E.D. Mich. 2008) (subscription required). In Spencer, it's the employer who loses a motion for summary judgment on a strict reading of the time period. The FMLA allows for twelve weeks of unpaid leave per year. That year can be a calendar year or it can be calculated a number of different ways, but the employer has to give the employee advance notice of which way the year will be calculated, according to the Department of Labor's regulation. If it does not do so, the one most generous for the employee will govern.

The employee here took leave beginning on December 6, and was terminated March 18. She was able to return to work on March 25. If the twelve weeks run with the college's fiscal year, are counted from when the leave began, or are counted backwards from the date of the termination, the employee had exhausted her leave and was not entitled to come back to work. If, however, the twelve weeks run with the calendar year, the employee had not exhausted her leave, and was entitled to come back to work.

The college's handbook failed to specify how FMLA leave would be calculated. Although the handbook did say in a separate section that sick and vacation leave would be counted on the fiscal year, it didn't say anything in the FMLA section other than "year." Additionally, the college provided conflicting evidence of which other method it actually used. Accordingly, the most generous leave governed, and summary judgment was denied.

MM

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