FMLA Leave, Interference Claims, and When the Law Does (and Doesn’t) Require Employers to Give Workers Notice of Their FMLA Rights and Responsibilities

The Family and Medical Leave Act provides several rights and imposes several responsibilities on employees and employers alike. It is important to be keenly cognizant of these rights and responsibilities, as failure to do so can be extremely costly. If you have questions about your FMLA rights and/or responsibilities, don’t hesitate to contact an experienced Atlanta FMLA lawyer to get the knowledgeable answers you need.

Late last month, we looked at an 11th Circuit Court of Appeals case of a South Florida writer and producer and some of the details regarding the law of “associational discrimination.” In the context of the Americans With Disabilities Act, associational discrimination occurs when your employer discriminates against you because you are “associated” with “someone who has significant medical needs” and for whom you “may need to provide care.”

The producer’s case is noteworthy for more than just the illumination it shone on associational discrimination, however. It also serves as an important reminder about the mechanics of the procedural requirements imposed by the FMLA.

The law requires employers to provide an employee who has requested FMLA leave with an eligibility notice and a “rights and responsibilities notice” within five days of the initial request.

What’s Required to Trigger a Right to Receive Notice

In the producer’s case, she sent her employer an email on May 2, 2018, regarding a need for time off due to the worsening medical state of her father, who was terminally ill with cancer, lived 1,100 miles away, and depended on her as his primary caretaker. Four days later, she sent another email. This one requested “ongoing flexibility” as she prepared to relocate her father from Pennsylvania to South Florida. The employer did not provide the woman with FMLA notices after either email.

If an employee’s communication with her employer qualifies as a valid¬†triggering event, and her employer does not provide the mandatory FMLA notices within five business days, it may be liable for FMLA interference.

In addition to proving the existence of a sufficient triggering event,¬†the employee must also establish that she suffered harm as a result of the employer’s failure. This last element doomed the producer’s claim centering around the May 2 email. Although that email, which included a specific request for time off, was sufficient to trigger the employer’s notice obligations under the FMLA, the producer had no proof of harm. The employer, in response to the May 2 email, provided the producer with paid time off for her emergency trip to Pennsylvania, meaning the employer’s error was a technical violation that resulted in no harm.

The May 6 email, by contrast, was not a valid triggering event. That email simply asked for “ongoing flexibility.” The producer never made an actual request for any leave time. The email asked the employer to place her only on local assignments once her father moved to Florida, but that was merely a request for an accommodation, not a request for leave. In the absence of a specific request for time off, the email was insufficient to place the employer under an obligation to provide FMLA notices.

Whether you’re a worker or an employer, understanding your rights and responsibilities regarding the FMLA is crucial. If you have questions about FMLA leave, we have the information and advice you need. Contact the knowledgeable Atlanta FMLA interference attorneys at the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert today at 404-873-8048 or through this website to schedule a consultation.

Contact Information