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FMLA leave year: Employer’s confusion, errors doomed them in court

Employers must administer FMLA leave properly

Posted May 20, 2024

Failing to correctly identify the 12-month leave year period during which employees may take leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) can lead to issues, as one employer learned.

The 12-month period may be based on:

  1. The calendar year,
  2. Any fixed 12-month period, such as, a year starting on the employee’s anniversary date, a fiscal year, or a 12-month period required by state law,
  3. A 12-month period measured forward from the first date an employee takes FMLA leave, or
  4. A “rolling” 12-month period measured backward from the date an employee takes FMLA leave.

The case

Carol, a nurse, suffered from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and migraines for which she took intermittent FMLA leave without issue, that is until she exhausted her leave and confusion about her leave year began.

The company used the measured forward method and told Carol’s that her 12-month period ended in September 2021. In December, however, the employer approved her FMLA leave during the 12-month period ending on November 11, 2021.

By the end of September 2021, Carol had used all 12 weeks’ worth of her FMLA for the 12-month period. On September 23, Carol asked to begin the recertification process, per company policy. While waiting for a response, on September 29, her supervisors and HR placed Carol on a 90-day leave of absence so she could find another position in the organization.

The employer denied Carol’s latest FMLA request because she had allegedly already exhausted her 12 weeks of FMLA leave for that 12-month period, even though her leave was approved until November.

Once again, Carol requested FMLA leave, but the company denied it on January 10, 2022, saying she never provided a new certification. She was terminated and she sued.

Employer’s confusion and errors were their downfall

The court ruled in favor of Carol, saying that she should have been eligible to recertify for FMLA leave for the 12-month period ending in September 2022, and she did that.

Therefore, there was a question as to whether the employer incorrectly and inexplicably extended Carol’s leave year period to 14 months — to November, thereby interfering with her right to recertify during the right time period after 12 months.

It was also unclear if the employer actually had the required certification information in another form and nonetheless refused to certify Carol because she did not submit the official form; if it incorrectly refused to certify her because of its possible errors in connection with the second timeframe, or if it correctly refused to certify her because it did not have the information it required.

Carol had submitted certification in September 2021. So, did the employer’s own errors lead it to improperly deny Carol’s leave to which she was entitled and thus interfere with her FMLA rights? That was for a jury to decide.

Williams v. Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Ga., Northern District of Georgia, No. 1:22-cv-02744, March 31, 2024.

This article was written by Darlene Clabault of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

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