An employer found out the hard way that its sloppy handbook and HR procedures could put it on the hook for Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) benefits even though its employee didn’t qualify under the law.
A county road commission’s personnel manual provided that full time employees who worked 1,250 hours in the previous 12 months were covered under the FMLA. In reality, not all of the commission’s employees qualified because some worked at locations where the commission did not employ 50 employees within 75 miles of the worksite. If you don’t employ at least 50 employees within a 75 mile radius of a certain worksite, employees at that location do not qualify for benefits under the FMLA.
Unfortunately for the commission, its handbook didn’t state the 50/75 Employee qualifying threshold, and a poor-performing (but non-qualifying) employee asked for and received FMLA leave. Making matters worse, the HR Department gave him the forms to do so. After the commission fired him for poor performance while he was on leave, the employee sued for interference with his FMLA rights. When the commission argued he never qualified for leave in the first place, a federal appellate court said a jury would decide whether the commission’s failure to inform its employees that not all may qualify misled the employee into believing that he had rights under the FMLA.
The takeaway is clear: work with legal counsel to ensure that your handbook completely and accurately informs your employees of who does and does not qualify for benefits. Also make sure that HR knows the rules so it does not offer FMLA benefits when none exist.
If you want to read the court’s opinion, click here.