What Do You Think: Did Failure to Notify Electrician of Rights Violate FMLA?

Frank Ferreri

Denver, CO (WorkersCompensation.com) – Last month, the 11th Circuit took issue with an employer’s failure to notify an employee of her FMLA rights when she received workers’ compensation benefits.

When faced with a similar case, the 10th Circuit recently took a shot at the topic, but would it follow its sister Circuit’s lead?

An electrician experienced an elbow injury at work and met with human resources about workers’ compensation. Although the worker was eligible to take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, HR did not advise him about his eligibility.

Following the injury, the electrician’s doctors initially placed restrictions on his work, which the company accommodated. Later, when the doctors cleared the electrician to return to full duty, the company notified him that it was terminating his employment.

The electrician sued, claiming that the company violated his FMLA rights. At trial, a jury concluded that the company violated the FMLA by interfering with the electrician’s right to take leave. However, the jury also decided that the violation wasn’t willful and that the company would have terminated the electrician regardless of his FMLA eligibility. Thus, it ruled in the company’s favor.

At trial, a company representative reported that if an employee was covered under a workers’ compensation claim, the company would hold back the FMLA leave and not run it concurrently because the company felt that the workers’ compensation claim adequately covered the employee.

The electrician appealed to the 10th Circuit, alleging that the jury’s finding contradicted the evidence at trial showing that the company willfully interfered with his FMLA rights.

To show a willful violation of the FMLA, an employee must demonstrate that the employer knew or showed reckless disregard for whether its conduct was prohibited by the FMLA.

Did the company willfully interfere with the electrician’s FMLA rights?

  1. Yes. The company purposefully did not provide the electrician with FMLA notice when he experienced a medical condition due to an injury that occurred at work.
  2. No. While failing to let the electrician know about his FMLA rights might have been negligent, it didn’t show “reckless disregard.”

If you chose B, you agreed with the court in, Skerce v. Torgeson Electric Company, No. 19-3244 (10th Cir. 04/20/21), which upheld the jury’s decision in the company’s favor. According to the 10th Circuit, the failure to let the electrician know about the FMLA was “mere negligence or an unreasonable determination of its obligations under the FMLA.”

The court also highlighted that either the company or the workers’ compensation insurer paid the electrician during the time he was unable to work. Additionally, the 10th Circuit noted that regardless of the FMLA, the company did not have work available for the electrician and would have terminated him anyway.

This feature does not provide legal advice.

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