Employee’s FMLA claim was too late
Key to remember: Employees must file FMLA claims within two years of the violation; three years for willful violations
Applies to: Private employers with 50 or more employees, all public agencies.
Impact to customers: While not a get-out-of-jail-free card, employers should be aware of the FMLA’s statute of limitations. Of course, complying with the law is the best course of action.
Employees need to adhere to the FMLA’s statute of limitations in relation to filing claims, or their claims may fail.
Case in point
After working for the company for a few years, Zoe experiencing anxiety. Her anxiety increased, and she began taking time off. While originally, she asked for one week off, the period of leave was extended by a few more weeks. During all this, she never received any notice of her FMLA rights.
The company began looking into whether another employee could take on Zoe’s responsibilities, and even began to consider terminating Zoe, though it took no formal steps in that direction.
Eventually, the company sent Zoe an e-mail stating that her network access had been terminated per the company’s security policies. Subsequently, Zoe told the company that she intended to try a trial work period, but the company told her that she was under a stop-work order and would have to meet with a company manager in person before returning to work.
On June 5, 2014, Zoe met with a company representative. Subsequently, On June 11, the company offered to allow Zoe to telework — but proposed a five-hour trial work period. Zoe rejected this offer and did not return to work, and she never performed any further work for the company after June 11, 2014.
Instead, Zoe filed a complaint, but not until March 13, 2017. In her complaint, she argued that the employer interfered with her FMLA rights by failing to provide her notice of these rights. Had she been provided notice, Zoe claimed she may have structured her FMLA leave differently.
Her argument was somewhat moot, as the court entered judgment for the employer, in part because Zoe waited too long to file her claim. Zoe appealed the case, and the company admitted that it failed to notify Zoe of her FMLA rights, but the delay in filing remained a hurdle for Zoe.
The Appeals Court ruled in favor of the employer due to the FMLA’s statute of limitations. Under the FMLA, an action must generally be brought within two years after the date of the last event constituting an alleged violation — in this case, the last communication Zoe had with the employer. This statute of limitation extends to three years for a willful violation.
Olson v. MBO Partners, Inc. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 19-35389, October 27, 2020
This article was written by Darlene M. Clabault, SHRM-CP, PHR, CLMS, of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. The content of these news items, in whole or in part, MAY NOT be copied into any other uses without consulting the originator of the content.
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