Many employers offer leave of absence benefits to employees that supplement leaves of absence provided by the Family and Medical Leave Act. Indeed, many employers use their procedures for processing an FMLA leave request when considering and granting non-FMLA leaves. As illustrated by a recent case, this overlap may result in confusion (or claims of confusion) giving otherwise non-eligible employees rights under the FMLA. Specifically, Medley v. Montgomery County,* addressed the question of whether an employee who has not worked sufficient hours to be eligible for a leave of absence under the FMLA, still has rights under the Act, because they have been informed by their employer that their leave is covered by the FMLA? In this case, a federal court in Pennsylvania held that the employee cannot assert an interference claim under the FMLA, but is protected by the non-discrimination provisions of the law.
In Medley, a nursing assistant claimed that she was led to believe by her employer that she was taking an FMLA leave when she took intermittent time off to care for her son, who has Asperger's Syndrome, developmental delay and anxiety disorder. Her employer allegedly told her she was taking FMLA leave and she completed FMLA paperwork in connection with her time off. According to her allegations, she was later given written warnings for her absences from work, and was fired the day after she filed an internal written complaint about the warnings. The explanation for the dismissal proffered by the employer allegedly was that she had missed work on specific days, days that she had understood were covered by FMLA. The nursing assistant asserted that she would not have taken these days off if she had been aware they were not protected by the Act.
The Court dismissed her interference claims, holding that, as she was not eligible for FMLA leave, the plaintiff could not logically claim that she had FMLA rights with which the employer interfered. However, the Court treated her discrimination claim differently, allowing her to proceed with the claim, based on her allegations that she was induced to take time off by the County's misstatements. "[A] defendant can be estopped from asserting a non-coverage defense, i.e., from arguing that the plaintiff was not FMLA eligible, if the defendant misinformed the plaintiff about her eligibility and the plaintiff suffered a detriment after relying on the misrepresentations."
* Medley v. Montgomery County, No. 2:12-cv-01995 (E.D. Pa. July 17, 2012)