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Providing more leave than required? You can legally cut back

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Some employers offer more than the 12 weeks’ unpaid leave annually that the FMLA grants to eligible employees who need to care for themselves or close family members who have a serious health condition. But that doesn’t mean they have to keep doing so. It’s OK to change your leave policy to the legal minimum and then start disciplining employees who exceed the FMLA allotment.
    Recent case: The prison where Stanley Coker worked had a strict attendance policy calling for dismissal once an employee reached 48 hours of unexcused absences or tardiness in a rolling 12-month period.
    Coker began taking intermittent FMLA leave to care for his daughter, who has juvenile diabetes. Although technically entitled to 504 hours of leave in a rolling 12-month period, Coker was approved for more than 600 hours for two years running. Then the prison started cracking down on absences and told Coker—orally and in writing—that he had run out of FMLA leave for the year.
    Coker continued to take unexcused leave and was fired after he accumulated 48 hours. He sued, arguing that the prison should have told him up front he was eligible for only 504 hours.
    But the court sided with the employer—it wasn’t required to tell Coker beforehand how it calculated leave as long as it gave him fair warning later. Just because his absences had been excused in the past did not mean his employer had to continue the practice. (Coker v. McPaul, No. 06-3587, 6th Cir., 2007)
    Advice: Make sure you give employees plenty of warning that you’re changing the rules. Also, let individual employees know when they have exhausted their FMLA leave.

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