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Court: Pressuring employee to work during FMLA leave is interference

Applying such pressure only once is enough

Posted November 19, 2021

Janise worked for a county board of elections so, there were times during the year when she was generally expected to work long hours — including 10-to-14-hour days. She also had a medical condition that resulted in chronic fatigue that was exacerbated by long workdays. Given that, she requested FMLA leave so she could work only eight hours per day. Her request was granted.

As the November elections approached, however, Janise was told by Bianca, her supervisor that if she didn’t follow the schedule, and failed to work when needed would result in a “performance review.” At one point in October, Janise was told to attend a training session at 5:30 p.m., despite the fact that her day began at 8:00 a.m., requiring her to work more than eight hours that day. She was informed that if she did not attend, she would be fired.

Instead of attending the training, Janise resigned, and subsequently sued her former employer for interfering with her FMLA rights by requiring her to work during her FMLA leave.

The employer tried to argue that its actions were “isolated” and “inadvertent,” and, therefore, didn’t rise to a violation. The court pointed out, however, that there was ample evidence at trial that Bianca discouraged Janise from taking FMLA leave, and an employer who discourages an employee from using FMLA leave may be liable for interference.

The employer also tried to argue that it took good faith efforts to comply because it was only one incident, and that Janise should have inquired about the repercussions of not attending the training.

The court didn’t buy the employer’s arguments, pointing out that the FMLA does not allow employers to interfere with FMLA rights as long as their employees knew about their rights. Janise was awarded liquidated damages in the amount of $3, 000 plus interest, and front pay in the amount of $7, 086.

Friends, it’s never a good idea to require or coerce employees to work instead of taking FMLA leave.

Hudak v. St. Joseph County Board of Commissioners, et al., Northern District of Indiana, No. 3:18-CV-932, November 4, 2021.

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

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