The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows employees in the United States to take up to twelve weeks each year under certain circumstances. Leave can be used if the employee is suffering from a serious medical condition that prevents them from performing their job duties, or in order to care for a child, spouse, or parent suffering from a health condition. Denying an employee their rightful FMLA leave is against the law, as is retaliating against an employee who used leave time with an adverse employment action. Such unlawful adverse action includes demotion, denial of promotion, denial of pay raise, or termination. If an employer denies you leave or retaliates against you for taking FMLA leave, you may likely financially recover in court.
Not all FMLA claims are viable, however. Sometimes an employee may bring an FMLA claim against an employer when they were truly terminated for another valid reason. Employers should not be held liable for terminations when they are not truly wrongful. However, one recent case demonstrates that some courts may act with wide discretion when deciding FMLA claims.
Nelson v. Clermont County Veterans Service Commission
Kristan Nelson worked as an administrative assistant in a Veteran’s Service Commission (VSC) office. After learning her daughter was sexually assaulted, Nelson requested FMLA leave to both care for her daughter’s emotional needs and her own “crying spells” and inability to concentrate or focus. She was approved for and took five weeks of leave. Nine days after she returned to work, she was suspended and ultimately terminated.
This may seem at first glance like a slam dunk FMLA retaliation case. However, additional details complicate matters. For instance, in the months leading up to her FMLA leave, Nelson’s work performance had declined. She had been reprimanded for not finishing her work, using her work computer for non-work activities, and for claiming unauthorized overtime hours. Furthermore, when she returned from FMLA leave, she brought her daughter to work with her every day, in spite of her manager’s direct request that she not do this. The VSC claimed that these were the true reasons behind her termination, not her use of FMLA leave.
However, her boss had made some comments to her insinuating that she must choose between caring for her daughter or keeping her job. This comment combined with the temporal proximity of her termination with her return from FMLA leave was enough for the court to allow her FMLA retaliation to proceed and deny VSC’s motion to dismiss.
Though the ultimate outcome of this case is yet unknown, VSC may have to compensate Nelson though she likely was fired for valid reasons. Employers deserve quality representation against unfounded wrongful termination claims brought by disgruntled employees. If you are facing any employment lawsuits, contact HKM for help today.