Employer Interfered With Employee’s FMLA Rights By Failing To Respond To Her FMLA Application

Employer Interfered With Employee’s FMLA Rights By Failing To Respond To Her FMLA Application

Paperwork1In Brunson v. Forest Preserve District of Cook County, a recent federal case in the Northern District of Illinois, the Court found that an employer had interfered with an employee’s FMLA rights where the employer had received the employee’s FMLA application, but never responded to that application before terminating her. In this case, the plaintiff, a police officer in training, has been diagnosed with asthma three years before being hired by the police department/employer. As she began working outdoors in her post as a police officer, the plaintiff’s asthma began to worsen, resulting in sick days and two hospital visits. After the second hospital visit, the plaintiff was advised to file a request for FMLA leave.

The plaintiff submitted an FMLA request to the Police Chief on January 16, 2006. Included with the request was a certification from her physician, one of the documents typically required for an FMLA request. Plaintiff contacted the Police Chief’s office eight days after submitting her request to inquire into the status of her request. She was informed that the request had been received. About two months after submitting the request, the plaintiff still had not received an answer. She contacted the employer’s human resources department. Human resources told the plaintiff that their department had no record of receiving her FMLA paperwork. The plaintiff again contacted the Police Chief’s office and was told that the form was “stuck in legal.” The Police Chief’s office said they would get back to her with follow up information, which they never did. In April 2006, three months after submitting her FMLA request, and without ever receiving an answer regarding that request, the plaintiff was terminated.

The employer argued to the court that it did not have sufficient information to make a determination about whether the leave would be designated as FMLA leave. The court disagreed. It should be noted, also, that the employer never argued that it had sought additional information from the plaintiff or her spokesperson (parent, child, spouse, doctor, etc). The court found that by failing to respond to the plaintiff’s request for three months, the employer had interfered with the plaintiff’s FMLA rights.

Under the Department of Labor Regulations, an employer is required to let an employee know whether leave will be counted as FMLA approved leave within five days after having enough information to determine whether the leave is FMLA-qualifying. Where an employer does not have sufficient information to determine whether leave is FMLA-qualifying, the employer should inquire further of the employee or her spokesperson to obtain the additional information.

If an employee has applied for FMLA leave and has not received a response from her employer within five days, she should ask her employer about the status of the request. She specifically should ask if any additional information is needed. If no additional information is needed, then the employer should render an immediate decision. If the employer does not render a timely decision and does not request additional information, the employer may be liable for interfering with the employee’s FMLA rights.


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