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Employee Employed Less than 12 Months Qualifies as FMLA Plaintiff

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February 20, 2009

A U.S. District Court in Chicago ruled that an employee who had been employed for less than 12 months but requested leave that would have begun more than a year into his employment qualified for protection under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") due to his advanced leave request. Reynolds v. Inter-Indus. Conf. on Auto Collision Repair.

To be eligible for leave under the FMLA, an employee must work for his employer for at least 12 months, and for at least 1250 hours in the 12 months preceding the first day of leave. Christopher Reynolds had worked for Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair ("I-CAR") for approximately 11 months when his pregnant fiancée went into premature labor. She gave birth to the couple's child three months early. Reynolds asked I-CAR for FMLA leave to care for the child once his fiancée's medical leave ran out, by which time Reynolds would have worked for I-CAR for 12 months and would have been eligible for FMLA leave. Later, when he telephoned I-CAR to check on the status of his request, he was told that he had been fired.

Reynolds sued under the FMLA. I-CAR moved to dismiss the case, contending that Reynolds was not protected by the FMLA. I-CAR argued that Reynolds was not an "eligible employee" because I-CAR had not employed him for 12 months at the time of his request. The Court rejected I-CAR's argument.

Under the FMLA, it is unlawful for an employer to interfere with an employee's rights, or to discriminate against an employee for exercising his rights under the FMLA. The Act also requires employees to provide at least 30 days' notice of their need for FMLA leave if the leave is foreseeable. Because of this 30-day notice requirement, the court found that Reynolds could not have availed himself of his right to FMLA leave upon becoming an eligible employee without giving advance notice of his need for leave before he became eligible. Thus, if I-CAR fired Reynolds for requesting FMLA leave, its actions would constitute unlawful interference and discrimination under the FMLA. Accordingly, the court ruled that Reynolds could proceed with his case.

As this ruling makes clear, employers should be aware that even an employee who is not eligible for FMLA leave may be protected by the FMLA's anti-interference and anti-discrimination provisions. Consequently, employers should proceed with caution when taking adverse action against an employee who has recently requested family or medical leave, whether or not the employee is presently covered by the FMLA.

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