Making Sure Your FMLA Policy Covers the Basics
Too often, employers assume that their policies comply with the basic tenets of regulatory provisions and proceed to other details without regular, careful review. This complacency, however, is where mistakes multiply, which can result in costly outcomes. In the case of Tilley v. Kalamazoo County Road Commission, for instance, the court reiterated that failure to review basic FMLA rules and train employees accordingly could lead to an unwelcome result.
Specifically, an employee must meet three criteria before he/she is eligible for leave under Family and Medical Leave Act:
The employee must have been employed by a covered employer for 12 months.
The employee has worked 1,250 hours during the 12-month period before the requested leave begins.
The employee works at a location where the covered employer employs fifty or more employees within a 75-mile radius of that location.
These three elements are relatively simple, but Kalamazoo highlights the importance of careful review of basic policies for mistakes. After suffering from symptoms that made him believe he was having a heart attack on August 1st, 2011, Terry Tilley was admitted to the hospital. The next day, his wife informed his employer, the Kalamazoo County Road Commission, that he would be unable to return to work until August 5th. On August 9th, a representative for the road commission sent Mr. Tilley some paperwork informing him not only that he was eligible for FMLA leave, but that it was “important that we utilize Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave.” He was provided an eligibility notice with a checked box that said he was eligible for FMLA. This is where the Kalamazoo County Road Commission went wrong.
Tilley had worked for the road commission for over a year, and he had worked at least 1,250 hours in that year. The Kalamazoo County Road Commission, however, did not employee fifty or more employees within a 75-mile radius of Mr. Tilley’s location. Due to the form and cover letter suggesting that he was eligible, however, the court in Tilley v. Kalamazoo County Road Commission determined that the question of whether Mr. Tilley relied on that statement to seek medical care is a question of fact for a jury to decide. The road commission may ultimately be precluded (via equitable estoppel) from denying his eligibility, and will now have to endure the time and expense of trial regardless of the jury’s ultimate verdict..
The costly lesson learned is that the most basic provisions of an FMLA policy are not only the most important, but are easily overlooked. FMLA policies should face a legal review any time there are regulatory changes. Don’t assume that the basics are covered and only review the minutiae, either – make sure all basics are accounted for and openly stated, and properly train those employees who will be administering the FMLA notice and leave.