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FMLA Claim Lives Where Employer Encouraged Early Leave

Angel Reif started working for Assisted Living by Hillcrest LLC (Hillcrest) on January 25, 2017. Sometime after beginning her employment, she started experiencing pain in her right hip and knee because of an old injury to her Achilles Tendon. In early January 2018, a doctor advised her to undergo surgery to alleviate her pain. She met with the Human Resources coordinator to let the company know she would be taking FMLA leave once she was eligible. The coordinator said she was not eligible until January 25, 2018. Ms. Reif scheduled her surgery for after that date. However, that coordinator came back later that day and instructed her to leave immediately because the company feared she was a source of liability for them with her injury. Ms. Reif was encouraged to schedule her surgery earlier and assured her job would be there upon her return.
Doing as she was instructed, Ms. Reif moved up the date of her surgery and requested FMLA leave through the company application. While she was recovering from her surgery, she received a letter telling her that she was not eligible for leave and her position would not be held open. Ms. Reif sued for relief under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
FMLA allows eligible employees to take up to twelve weeks of leave for serious health conditions and employers may not interfere with the rights of employees to do so. Eligible employees are employed for at least twelve months and work at least 1,250 hours of service during the prior year. Because Ms. Reif has alleged that she would not have taken leave early but for being told she had to leave immediately, have her surgery, and that she would have a job remaining, Hillcrest may be estopped from denying her FMLA leave. The federal district court asserted that it would be “fundamentally unfair” to force her on a non-emergency leave and then fire her. This decision was based on an Eleventh Circuit case extending the anti-interference provisions to pre-FMLA eligibility to prevent creating a loophole where an employer has unfettered ability to terminate an employee to prevent him from taking leave. Ms. Reif will be able to proceed with her case.