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Texas woman's FMLA claim denied because of late notification

Federal laws are in place to protect workers' rights in Texas and throughout the country. In particular, the Family and Medical Leave Act is designed to protect workers' employment when unexpected medical issues arise, including pregnancy, illness or the need to care for a family member. But to take advantage of these important benefits, Texans need to be aware of the relevant filing deadlines and paperwork.

An unfortunate situation in Texas left a woman without FMLA coverage quite possibly when she needed it most. She says she was the victim of unwelcome sexual advances in the workplace, and after the alleged incident, she didn't go back to work.

Instead, she did the right thing for herself: she sought treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. But apparently her employer, Spectrum Catering and Concessions, mailed her a letter inquiring as to why she had been absent from work. The letter called for a written response describing the alleged incident, along with a physician's written permission to return to work and FMLA documentation of her condition.

The woman's doctor responded, indicating that she was indeed suffering from PTSD and that she couldn't go back to work. The company sent a letter indicating the receipt of the doctor's response and followed up with a Certification of Health Care Provider, which is a standard form from the Department of Labor. According to FMLA guidelines, this particular form has to be mailed back to the employer within 15 days if the employee is to have FMLA coverage.

Unfortunately, the woman didn't return the form within the allotted time, so technically her absence from work wasn't excused, and the company fired her. She in turn sued her employer for negligence, retaliation, hostile work environment and violations of the FMLA, but she lost. In her appeal, however, she only pursued the FMLA claims, and solely because she did not follow FMLA application guidelines, she lost that appeal.

Plenty of employees in the Houston area have legitimate claims against their employers, but to get the coverage and compensation they deserve, employees need to work with an employment law attorney who is familiar with the filing processes and the relevant laws.

Source: Human Resources Journal, "Dispute Over Termination a Matter of Whether or Not Proper Notice Was Provided," Oct. 12, 2012

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