Court rules employer did not violate FMLA

Employees and employers in Texas may be interested in a U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit decision that stated that an employee has the right to take leave without invoking the Family and Medical Leave Act, regardless of whether the reason for requesting leave falls under the act's protections. The ruling was in favor of Foster Poultry Farms, which was facing allegations of violating the FMLA by a former employee.

According to the lawsuit, the woman felt automatically entitled to the protections of the FMLA because she had informed her supervisor that she was seeking leave in order to care for her sick father. She argued that an employee's explicit acceptance or declination to use FMLA was irrelevant because employers are mandated to assign eligible leave as FMLA-protected.

The 18-year former employee for Foster Farms requested and secured a two-week leave from her supervisor on Nov. 19, 2007, in order to travel to Guatemala to care for her father. While her family responsibility required an extended stay, she failed to notify anyone at Foster Farms about the extension. She was automatically terminated under the company's three-day no-show, no-call policy.

The judge, in his ruling, stated that while employers are expected to examine whether a worker intends to take leave under the FMLA, it would be unreasonable to suggest that they are obligated to assume FMLA leave based on a qualifying reason. He explained that the employer would be open to liability if an employee who does not intend to exercise the rights outlined under the FMLA may feel forced to do so. Foster Farms contended that the ex-employee's supervisor asked whether she intended to take FMLA leave, to which she said no.

As the FMLA protects those who face medical and family situations, employers may not interfere with or retaliate against an employee requiring such leave. If an employee feels victimized or discriminated against for invoking the FMLA, an attorney may assist in seeking financial compensation.

Source: Metropolitan News-Enterprise, "Court Rules for Employer in Family Leave Controversy", Michael J. Peil, February 26, 2014