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Court sides with employee after employer misinterprets FMLA

Pennsylvania workers who are struggling to assert their right to family leave might be encouraged by a ruling from a federal appeals court. It upheld a lower court's jury verdict in favor of the employee using time off through the Family and Medical Leave Act to care for her autistic son.

The primary concern had been the woman's claim that her employer retaliated against her for taking leave. After her son had been expelled from day care, she had established a work-at-home schedule with her employer that granted her leave time when she cared for her son.

In the same year that she reached this arrangement with human resources, the company decided that all employees needed to report to the office for work five days a week. When the woman approached human resources about her difficulty caring for her son, an HR officer wrongly said that FMLA could only apply to time needed for doctor appointments and therapy. If she did not come to the office, the company would declare that she had voluntarily quit. She never returned to work after being given this information. Because the company gave her incomplete information about her right to leave, the appeals court agreed that the jury had been reasonable to view the actions of her employer as retaliatory.

Disputes between employees and employers occur when an organization denies leave to an eligible employee or retaliates against a person who has taken a lawful leave. An attorney could advise someone confronted by these problems. Eligibility under the Family andMedical Leave Act could be explained by an attorney, who might contact the employer and strive to resolve the problem internally.

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