Even though the FMLA has been around since 1993, the Sixth Circuit did not get around to designating the appropriate framework for reviewing FMLA interference claims until January 17, 2012.
Continue Reading The Sixth Circuit Settles It: FMLA Interference Claims Should Be Evaluated Under the McDonnell Douglas Framework

The recent Utah district court decision in Kuhn v. Comfort Hospice Care, LLC highlights the importance of evaluating relationships with professional employer organizations (“PEO’s”), as these relationships may cause an unknowing employer to be held liable under the FMLA.
Continue Reading District Court Ruling Encourages Employers to Evaluate Relationships

As demonstrated by the Sixth Circuit’s recent decision in Farhner v. United Transportation Union Discipline Income Protection Program, a well-drafted ERISA income protection or severance pay plan should enable the plan administrator to rely on the employer’s stated reason for termination of an employee, rather than conducting an independent review of the facts regarding the termination.

In May 2004, Mark Farhner, a trackman and conductor for the Kansas City Southern Railroad sought a three-month leave of absence for "medical reasons." KCSR’s human resources manager requested additional information from Farhner to justify his request. When Farhner’s vacation leave had been exhausted, his supervisor told him that he needed to provide the requested documentation or return to work within 48 hours. Rather than doing either, Farhner faxed a request for FMLA leave. After conducting an investigation (which included an actual hearing), KCSR terminated Farhner for insubordination.

Continue Reading Sixth Circuit Upholds Denial of ERISA-Based Income Protection Benefits; Plan Administrator Need Not Investigate Whether the Employer Violated FMLA

As the Seventh Circuit in Righi v. SMC Corporation of America noted, it generally does not take much for an employee to preserve his rights under the FMLA; he must simply provide enough information "to place the employer on notice of a probable basis for FMLA leave."

When Robert Righi abruptly left a mandatory training seminar to care for his ill mother, however, he only sent an e-mail that said that he needed "the next couple days off" to arrange for his mother’s care and that he had vacation time available or "could apply for the family care act, which I do not want to do at this time." Mr. Righi’s manager attempted to call him on his cell phone several times over the next week or so to clarify his request for leave, but Mr. Righi had turned off his phone. His manager also left two messages with his roommate. It wasn’t until the ninth day after taking his leave that Mr. Righi called in. At that point, however, his manager called him into the office and fired him the next day.

When an employee fails to give his employer proper notice of the need for FMLA leave, the employer has no duty to provide it. Stated otherwise, an employee’s failure to comply with the FMLA’s notice requirements precludes a claim that the employer interfered with his rights under the FMLA because he failed to fulfill his obligations in order to be protected. While not sufficiently clear to trigger SMC’s obligation to provide written FMLA materials and certification forms to Righi, his email did trigger SMC’s obligation to make further inquiry as to whether he intended to designate his leave as FMLA. The Seventh Circuit held that SMC met that obligation by making multiple phone calls to him and that Righi’s failure to respond "doom[ed] his FMLA claim because he not only failed to designate his leave as FMLA, but he also failed to give SMC any indication as to when he would be returning to work." 

Continue Reading Seventh Circuit Upholds Denial of FMLA Leave To Employee Who Ignored Employer’s Telephone Calls

In a scenario that frequently occurs in workplaces across the country, Linda Buck, the vice president of human resources at Proctor Hospital, was asked to terminate Vincent Staub based on information contained in a report from his supervisors that accused him of violating the terms of a “corrective action” disciplinary warning. Relying on this accusation and her own review of Mr. Staub’s personnel file, Ms. Buck decided to terminate Mr. Staub’s employment. Mr. Staub protested to Ms. Buck that his supervisors were hostile to his military obligations as a member of the U.S. Army reserves, but rather than follow up on Mr. Staub’s concern with his supervisors, Ms. Buck simply conferred with another human resources staff member and adhered to her termination decision. Mr. Staub sued Proctor under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (“USERRA”) claiming that his discharge was motivated by hostility to his obligations as a military reservist. His contention was not that Ms. Buck had any such hostility but that his supervisors did, and that their actions influenced Ms. Buck’s ultimate employment decision. (This type of case has been referred to as a "Cat’s Paw" case, based on an Aesop’s fable involving a cat, a monkey, chestnuts and fire. Justice Scalia provides more information at footnote 1 of his majority opinion.)

A jury found that Mr. Staub’s “military status was a motivating factor in [Proctor’s] decision to discharge him,” and awarded $57,640 in damages. The Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that Proctor was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because Ms. Buck had relied on more than just the supervisors’ advice in making her termination decision.

Continue Reading Supreme Court Upholds “Cat’s Paw” Liability

Current and former employees of the City of Columbus, Division of Police, challenged the City’s Directive requiring employees returning from sick leave to submit a doctor’s note, stating the "nature of the illness" and whether the employee is capable of returning to regular duty to their immediate supervisors. The employees filed suit in the United

The DOL recently issued an Administrator’s Interpretation which clarifies that an employee who lacks a legal or biological parent-child relationship but provides either day-to-day care or financial support, and intends to assume the responsibilities of a parent with regard to the child, is eligible for parental rights to FMLA leave.
Continue Reading Recent Department of Labor Interpretation Broadens FMLA Coverage to Same-Sex, Non-Traditional Parents

The federal health care reform legislation passed in March of this year included an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), requiring employers to provide reasonable unpaid break time to nursing mothers to express breast milk for the nursing child.
Continue Reading DOL Issues Guidelines on New Requirement for Break Time for Nursing Moms

Employers should take notice of Ohio Revised Code Chapter 5906, which became effective on July 2, 2010. This law requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide up to two weeks of unpaid leave to an employee who is the spouse, parent, or a person with legal custody of a uniformed service member called into active duty or injured while on active duty.
Continue Reading Ohio’s New Military Family Leave Law Takes Effect