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Count minutes—not just hours—when figuring FMLA eligibility

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in Employment Law,Firing,FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

The FMLA was passed to enable employees to care for themselves and their eligible relatives when serious illness or injury strikes or a child is welcomed into the family. But the law also balances employee rights with an employer’s need to run its business efficiently and profitably. That’s why the law includes restrictions on how—and when—employees may take leave.

The FMLA limits leave eligibility to those employees who have worked at least 1,250 hours in the previous 12 months. Employers are perfectly within their rights to stick scrupulously to that 1,250-hour benchmark. They don’t have to round the hours up if the employee comes up short.

Employers that can show through payroll records—such as time cards or electronic clock-in and clock-out systems—that the employee didn’t meet the time requirement don’t have to provide FMLA leave. That’s true even if the employee missed the hours-worked requirement by mere minutes.

Recent case: Antoinette Pirant worked for the U.S. Postal Service and had been terminated four times for poor attendance. Each firing was followed by a lesser punishment after she managed to persuade management to give her another chance.

Finally, the post office warned Pirant that she would get no more slack. It made her sign a last-chance agreement to attend work regularly. When she later called in sick, she was fired.

Pirant sued, claiming the time off was for a serious health condition under the FMLA (arthritis in her knee), which prevented her from working.

The Postal Service asked the court to dismiss Pirant’s case. It introduced payroll and time card records indicating Pirant had worked only 1,249.8 hours in the last 12 months, or 12 minutes shy of the 1,250-hour minimum. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reasoned that Congress meant it when it said 1,250 hours. It dismissed Pirant’s case. (Pirant v. U.S. Postal Service, No. 07-1055, 7th Cir., 2008)

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