A poultry farm did not violate the Family Medical Leave Act when it terminated a woman who had worked there for almost two decades, according to a recent decision from a federal appeals court. The case involves a woman who had taken paid time off to care for her father who was in the hospital but stayed away from work past her last day of vacation and did not return or contact human resources within the limits of their three day policy. She was terminated from her job as a result of that, with supervisors saying that she had specifically declined to take unpaid leave under the FMLA which would have been job-protected.
One potential issue in this case is that the employee speaks limited English, as it is her second language. Her supervisor spoke only English and as a result their communications were limited and basic during their first conversation about the leave. During that conversation the woman apparently requested an extra unpaid week off but the request was denied. A later conversation was accompanied by a supervisor who did speak Spanish, the employee’s first language. During that conversation the employee was asked specifically several times if she needed more than two weeks off, which was all she had remaining in paid vacation time and she declined.
This issue muddies the waters slightly in terms of figuring out if the woman realized what was happening and what her legal standing was. However, she had been through the process on many other occasions as her father had been ill previously, so it is likely that she did understand the difference between paid time off and FMLA leave.
This case shows the importance of going through the proper channels and making sure that communication is clear with one’s human resources department in the event of a family emergency like the one in this case.
Source: Bloomberg BNA, “Ninth Circuit Upholds Verdict Against Worker Who Expressly Declined Use of FMLA Leave,” Jay-Anne B. Casuga, Feb. 27, 2014.