Chalk up another FMLA legal victory for employers. The most recent one shows employers do have rights when it comes to enacting policies to prevent FMLA leave abuse.
The Communications Workers of America had two simple policies:
- Employees on paid sick leave must “remain in the immediate vicinity of their home during the period of such a leave,” unless they obtain prior written permission to travel, and
- Employees on FMLA leave must use their paid sick leave concurrently until it runs out (a common policy — and one federal law has deemed OK).
One of its employees, Denise Pellegrino, was approved for FMLA leave to have surgery. At the time, she was told she had four weeks of paid sick leave available to her.
Two weeks after her surgery, well before she’d exhausted her paid sick leave, Pellegrino traveled to Cancun, Mexico.
When she returned, she was terminated for violating her employer’s sick leave policy.
Pellegrino then turned around and sued Communications Workers of America for FMLA interference.
Earlier this year a court ruled that the employer hadn’t interfered with her FMLA leave.
And last month, after an appeal, the Third Circuit agreed with the rationale behind the original ruling.
It said because Pellegrino was on both FMLA leave and paid sick leave (a combination allowed by law) at the time of her trip, she was bound by her employer’s sick leave policy.
The court, however, did add that Pellegrino’s termination was harsh. But it did not violate the Family Medical Leave Act.
Good news for employers
This ruling shows courts are willing to back employers who have well-documented leave policies.
Three keys to the case that swung it in favor of Communications Workers of America:
- It was able to prove it had provided Pellegrino with a DOL-approved form explaining her FMLA rights
- It presented an email it had sent to Pellegrino that explained its sick leave policy, and
- The sick leave policy was enforced consistently across the organization.
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