Wisconsin workers who are employed by a company that has at least 50 employees working at least 20 weeks out of the current or past calendar year, or who work for a public agency, are entitled to certain benefits related to serious family or medical needs. These benefits are provided under the Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA. The federal law requires that employers allow workers to take unpaid leave to address certain medical or family matters, without risk of losing their job as a result.
The FMLA provides protection against both interference with taking needed leave, as well as retaliatory action for choosing to do so. One recent case involved claims on both counts. An employee took leave under the FMLA, and upon her return to work claims that she was not properly reinstated. She was placed in a position with similar benefits and pay, but with incomparable responsibilities when compared to her previous position.
The manager who transferred the worker to another position claims that he did so based on the worker’s statement that she did not want to work under the same supervisor she had before taking leave. However, the worker denies having made that request, and documentation supports her claim that she was led to believe that she would be reinstated in the former position. She was fired just six weeks after her return, which comprises the retaliation portion of her lawsuit.
The court has agreed to continue hearing the interference portion of the Family and Medical Leave Act claim, but dismissed the retaliation portion. This decision demonstrates the burden that the employee shoulders in these types of cases. In order to claim retaliation, there must be a strong base of proof that an action was taken with the express intent of retaliation. When arguing interference, a Wisconsin employee needs only to demonstrate that a privilege or right was withheld.
Source: The Wichita Eagle, “Family and Medical Leave Act court case has lesson for employers, employees,” Ed Zalewski, June 13, 2013