Taking leave under the Family & Medical Leave Act can be a complicated process, with paperwork to fill out, medical forms to get signed and deadlines to meet. But a recent district court decision from Tennessee could make things a little easier for employees by requiring that employers at least be fair about their filing instructions and deadlines.
In the case of Shoemaker v. Conagra Foods, the employee had frequently taken FMLA leave over the years to care for her disabled husband and to recuperate from her own back problems. The employee arrived at work one day and was told she was suspended from her job because she had accumulated too many demerit points under the company’s attendance policy. The employee replied that her absences should have been excused because they were covered by the FMLA. The employer told her she had not filed the proper FMLA paperwork within the required time period, but indicated she had until the following Monday to turn it in.
The employee met the extended filing deadline, but the company terminated her anyway. She filed suit, claiming she had been retaliated against for exercising her rights under the FMLA. The employer claimed she had misunderstood the filing instructions, and that it had not extended the deadline as she had believed.
The district court rejected the employer’s motion to dismiss the suit because it found that the employee was reasonable in her interpretation of the company’s filing instructions. It should be up to a jury to decide whether the company failed to honor its extended deadline and therefore violated her FMLA rights, the court said.
Asserting your rights under the FMLA can feel like navigating a complex bureaucratic maze. That is particularly true when an employee needs “intermittent leave,” which is leave that is taken a few days at a time over a long period for an ongoing or chronic medical condition. But this court decision at least requires that employers be fair about the paperwork requirements they impose on their employees.
If you believe you’ve been treated unfairly by an employer because you took FMLA leave, contact the employment law litigators at Sommers Schwartz to help.