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Federal Court Finds FMLA Retaliation When Employer Revokes Telework Arrangement

On Behalf of | Mar 1, 2017 |

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently determined, in Wink v. Miller Compressing Co., that an employer had retaliated against an employee in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (“FMLA”) when it revoked her arrangement to work from home two days a week to care for her autistic child. The employer’s decision to terminate the arrangement was based on the mistaken belief that FMLA only covers medical appointments and treatment.  

Background. In Wink, an employee was approved for intermittent FMLA in order to care for her autistic son following his expulsion from daycare for aggressive behavior. Specifically, the employee had requested that the employer allow her to use two days of FMLA leave per week in order to work from home to care for her son. The employee’s proposed arrangement called for her to track the hours that she worked during the two days, with the remaining hours being counted towards FMLA leave. Although FMLA does not address telework, the employer agreed to the request, and the employee began to work from home without issue.

Several months after the employee began to telework, the employer adopted a policy under which employees could no longer work from home. The employer notified the employee about this policy and explained that she would either have to begin working from the employer’s worksite or be terminated. When the employee explained that she could not find a daycare provider for her son and was, therefore, unable to report to the employer’s worksite, the employer responded that FMLA only provides leave for doctor’s appointments and medical treatment.

Although the employee began reporting to the employer’s worksite, she told the employer she was required to return to home one day per week, during work hours, to care for her son. The employer fired the employee that same day.

In response, the employee sued the employer, claiming FMLA interference and retaliation. The jury found that the employer had retaliated against the employee for asserting her FMLA rights and awarded her $120,000. In turn, the employer appealed the decision to the Seventh Circuit.

Seventh Circuit. The Seventh Circuit held that there was enough evidence to support the jury verdict in favor of the employee’s FMLA retaliation claim, explaining that FMLA entitled the employee to take leave necessary to care for a sick child. In particular, the Seventh Circuit commented that the employee had proved, and the jury determined, that the employer had retaliated against her for asserting FMLA rights.

Takeaway for Employers. Inadequate manager training is often the cause for employers’ FMLA violations. Wink demonstrates the caution that employers must exercise when dealing with employees’ FMLA requests, especially those involving telework. To avoid outcomes like Wink, employers must be sure that the managers who administer FMLA receive proper training on the law’s requirements.