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Time records crucial in FMLA eligibility calculation

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in FMLA Guidelines,HR Management,Human Resources

The FMLA is generous to employees and places some basic requirements on employers to make sure it is fairly administered.

Employees are eligible for FMLA leave if they have worked for an employer for more than one year and for 1,250 or more hours in the preceding 12 months. If employees meet those criteria, they may take up to 12 weeks’ unpaid leave to deal with a serious health condition, childbearing or adoption, or to care for an ill child, spouse or parent.

As a practical matter, the FMLA requires employers to carefully keep track of all hours each employee works. As the following case shows, if the employer’s time records don’t include all time worked, it is up to the employer to prove to the court that the employee didn’t work enough hours to qualify. With poor records, that may be hard to do.

Recent case: Holly Staunch worked for Continental Airlines as a reserve flight attendant. Basically, she filled in for others when needed, on short notice.

Staunch frequently claimed she was sick when the airline called her. The airline disciplined her several times for refusing to work, and it eventually terminated her. Staunch then filed an FMLA lawsuit, alleging that some of her sick time was covered by the FMLA.

The airline disputed that Staunch had worked enough hours to be eligible for FMLA leave. Continental based its records on the time between the closing of the airplane’s main cabin door before departure and the time it opened again at the destination. But flight attendants actually perform work before and after those times. Because the airline didn’t keep “accurate records,” the court said it was required to prove that Staunch did not work at least 1,250 hours.

Fortunately, an HR specialist was able to reproduce the hours Staunch had worked—and she clocked in at 1,127 hours, 41 minutes—some 122 hours shy of the eligibility requirement. The court dismissed the case. (Staunch v. Continental Airlines, No. 07-3315, 6th Cir., 2008)

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