In an important decision for employers with temporary employees, the Eleventh Circuit recently held that the Family Medical Leave Act does not apply after an employer terminates the temporary employee. Janet Skotnicki, a former nurse at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Hospital, alleged UAB violated federal and state law when it denied her request for medical leave, which would have begun after her employment ended.

Skotnicki began working at UAB as a staff nurse in November 1998. That same year, she was diagnosed with a neurological condition that could affect her gait and balance. By 2001, she changed her employment status from full-time to part-time. In 2007, she took a one-month leave of absence under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to seek medical treatment. With regard to her return to work, her supervisor proposed two different positions, neither of which had the physical demands of Skotnicki’s current position; the first was a regular position that UAB would create for her and the second was a temporary position. Skotnicki elected the temporary job, acknowledging it was temporary position and would remain available only until UAB hired a full-time nurse practitioner.

In 2009, Skotnicki fell at her home and became unable to walk without assistance. About that time, she learned that UAB was permanently filling her position with a nurse practitioner and, as a result, her temporary position would end. She e-mailed her supervisor that she could not return to her former, staff nurse position due to her illness and she was applying for medical leave to receive treatment that would hopefully enable her to return to work. She said the leave would begin when her job ended. Her supervisor replied: “I am unsure about the process for FMLA at this time since your job is ending.” In the meantime, UAB hired a nurse practitioner and told Skotnicki her last day would be April 2, 2010. Ultimately, UAB denied her requested medical leave because it would have begun after her employment ended.

Skotnicki then filed claims alleging UAB wrongfully denied her FMLA leave. The district court granted summary judgment in UAB’s favor. The district court reasoned that, because UAB decided to terminate her before she engaged in any protected activity and her leave would have begun after her employment terminated, Skotnicki was not covered by the FMLA.

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, concluding that “the FMLA does not give a terminated employee the right to commence medical leave after her last day of employment, when she is no longer covered by the Act.”

This decision is important for employers with temporary employees, as it clearly defines an employer’s duties under the FMLA cease when employment ceases. While it might seem out of the question that an employee would seek FMLA benefits after having lost a job, this case shows that there is still confusion as to when you can apply for FMLA benefits.