Court Decision Brings New Scrutiny to Handling of FMLA Leave Requests

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has held that when an employer discourages an employee from taking Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) time off, the employer has violated the FMLA. Importantly, the employer in this case (the Cook County Sheriff’s office) did not ultimately deny the employee’s FMLA leave request. Accordingly, this clarifies that an FMLA interference violation need not include a denial of leave: “Threatening to discipline an employee for seeking or using FMLA leave to which he is entitled clearly qualifies as interference with FMLA rights.”

Business Takeaway: While the ruling is potentially unfavorable to employers (scrutinizing the discouragement of leave vs. a denial of leave, an inherently more subjective determination), it highlights the importance of documenting such discussions with employees. Moreover, it reinforces the importance of “blocking and tackling” when it comes to the administration of FMLA leave. Does your staff understand how to properly handle FMLA leave requests? What do you do to document FMLA (and related) conversations with your employees?