Why Omitting a Word or Two from your FMLA Policy Can Be a Killer . . .

The below is a GREAT example of why it is critical for your Employment Handbook to be up to snuff.   Especially in the Sixth Circuit. . .

As we all know, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides your employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave if they satisfy certain conditions of employment.  Those conditions are:

  1. He or She has been employed by a covered employer for 12 months;
  2. He or She has worked 1,250 hours during the 12-month period before his / her requested leave begins; and
  3. He or She works at a location where his / her employer employs 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius of that location.

Pretty cut and dried, huh?  If you retain fewer than 50 people, you have no obligation to offer FMLA leave, right?  Well, as of this January, maybe not. . .

In Western Michigan, road crew employee Terry Tilley worked for the tiny Kalamazoo County Road Commission.  The Road Commission (not surprisingly) fell well below the 50-employee threshold necessary for Tilley (or anyone else for that matter) to qualify for FMLA leave.  However, Kalamazoo’s Employment Handbook (for some bizarre reason) indicated that their employees were entitled to such leave if they were full time employees and had worked 1,250 hours in the preceding year.

Tilley was terminated for taking time off for medical leave he didn’t have available to him.  He later (somewhat inevitably) filed an FMLA lawsuit.  The Road Commission responded by filing a motion for summary judgment, arguing (correctly) that Tilley was not eligible for FMLA leave as he did not work for an employer who employed the requisite amount of employees within the 75-mile radius.

Normally, this would be a winning argument.  However, in denying the RC’s Motion for Summary Judgment, the Sixth Circuit found that based on the language contained in the RC’s Employment Handbook, a “reasonable person in [Tilley’s] position could fairly have believed that he was protected by the FMLA.”  Tilley v. Kalamazoo Road Comm’n, Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 14-1679.

In a word – YikesTilley is a classic example of an employer giving its employees more rights than they are actually entitled to receive solely due to slipshod drafting in its Employment Handbook.  The lesson?  Make sure your Employment Handbook gets updated every once in a while.  You’ll end up spending far, far less having an employment attorney review your policies than you will defending the inevitable lawsuits that follow.

Posted by Luke Lindberg