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Don’t rely on software alone to determine employee’s FMLA eligibility

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Many employers use software to track FMLA eligibility. Most of the time that works fine. But if you decide to terminate an employee because the software told you she wasn’t eligible for FMLA leave, double-check the calculation first.

Pull the employee’s file and add up all weeks she has been employed by the company. Ignore any breaks in service. If you confirm she hasn’t worked a total of 52 weeks, you can terminate her.

Recent case: Pamela Bowyer worked two stints in Dish Network’s customer service department. She had worked a total of 52 weeks. When she called in sick on Nov. 3 because she was having heart trouble, management checked her FMLA eligibility using its online database. HR ignored her earlier service and terminated her effective on the last day she was scheduled to work—Oct. 31.

Meanwhile, Bowyer incurred more than $20,000 in hospital bills. She sued, alleging she was eligible for FMLA leave.

The court agreed, based on her total weeks of service. It also said she was entitled to continued insurance coverage, since the FMLA specifies employees on leave must be allowed to retain their insurance coverage.

The court ordered the company to pay Bowyer’s outstanding medical bills and her lost wages. Then it doubled her wage award based on what it called the employer’s bad-faith reliance on software to make an erroneous termination decision. (Bowyer v. Dish Network, No. 08-1496, WD PA, 2010)

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