Not everyone is eligible for, especially in companies with multiple locations that employ fewer than 50 workers within 75 miles of a work site. But sometimes companywide handbooks describe without clarifying that some employees aren’t eligible because of where they work. Make sure employees in satellite offices understand they may not be eligible.
Otherwise, they may assume they are. If an employee takes action based on an inadvertent promise ofeligibility, he or she may have what’s called an “equitable estoppel” claim against their employer. That means the employer may have to honor the promise of FMLA leave and reinstatement if the worker can show she wouldn’t have taken the leave had she known she wasn’t eligible.
Recent case: Tyra requested FMLA leave for upcoming surgery. Someone at the corporate office apparently approved her leave, even though there were far fewer than 50 employees where Tyra worked and no other facilities within 75 miles her work site.
Then, before her scheduled operation, Tyra’s condition suddenly worsened and she had to undergo emergency surgery. After she recovered, her employer told her it had been mistaken; she hadn’t been eligible for FMLA leave after all.
Tyra sued, arguing that her employer couldn’t withdraw its promise of FMLA leave after she relied on it.
The employer lucked out. The court rejected Tyra’s lawsuit because she had an emergency operation. She hadn’t relied on the FMLA promise at all because she wouldn’t have put off surgery even if she had known she wasn’t eligible. (Cowman v. Northland Hearing Centers, et al., No. 15-11493, 11th Cir., 2015)
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