Employee Handbook May Prevent Employer from Denying FMLA Leave

posted by Michael R. Fortney  |  Apr 3, 2015 07:42 AM in Employment Law:Employee Benefits

The Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") applies to "eligible employees" of covered employers, but it may also apply to ineligible employees who were assured by their employers of their FMLA eligibility. This is precisely what happened in the Tilley case, a recent decision by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The plaintiff in Tilley worked for the Kalamazoo County Road Commission. At some point the plaintiff became ill and took FMLA leave, which caused him to miss deadlines of certain projects. The employer found out that the plaintiff was ineligible for FMLA and subsequently fired plaintiff.

The Commission had a handbook in place for its employees that stated “Employees covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act are full-time employees who have worked for the Road Commission and accumulated 1,250 work hours in the previous 12 months.” While these are two of the qualifications for an employee to be covered by the FMLA, the handbook did not mention the other qualification that the employer employs at least 50 employees within a 75 mile radius of the employee seeking FMLA leave.

Plaintiff proved through evidence that he had worked 1,250 hours in the past 12 months and was a full-time employee. Plaintiff argued that the employer should be estopped from denying him FMLA benefits because the 3-part equitable estoppel test (a misrepresentation, reliance on the misrepresentation, and detriment to the relying party) was satisfied. The Court held that the case should be remanded to the trial court because the handbook's statement was a clear enough misrepresentation to survive summary judgment, and the trial court would need to hear new evidence on plaintiff's reliance and detriment.

Employers who use handbooks should make certain that their handbooks contain no misrepresentations such as these. This should not deter employers from creating handbooks though. A well-made handbook offers many benefits to the employer.

If you would like more information on creating or revising a handbook or would like to speak to an attorney about other labor and employment issues, please visit our website


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