Employee Denied FMLA Leave for Sick Grandparent Can Go to Jury

A credit union employee who was fired while taking leave to care
for his recently hospitalized grandfather has a triable claim that the
business violated the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) because his
grandfather acted in the place of his parents when he was younger, the 2nd U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals ruled.

Image source: http://www.fmlainsights.com/can-an-employee-decline-fmla-leave-simply-by-checking-a-box-on-a-form/

Frantz Coutard worked
at Municipal Credit Union (MCU) until Jan. 22, 2013, when his grandfather, Jean
Manesson Dumond, was taken to a hospital by ambulance for bronchitis. Dumond
had had a stroke in 2011 and was suffering from a number of chronic medical
conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, asthma, prostate cancer, high
cholesterol and heart disease, while living with Coutard. Although Dumond was
released from the hospital on Jan. 23, 2013, Coutard believed that Dumond was
seriously ill and decided to stay home with him until a home health aide could
be hired.

MCU denied Coutard
leave, informing him that the FMLA did not apply to the care of a grandparent.
Coutard never mentioned to MCU that his grandfather served in the place of his
parents when he was younger. According to Coutard, he was raised by Dumond, his
maternal grandfather, after his biological father passed away before his fourth
birthday. Dumond acted as Coutard’s father until he was about 14 years old,
even referring to Coutard as his son.

Although MCU did not
permit Coutard to take FMLA leave, it advised him to apply for a short-term
leave of absence under a separate MCU policy. Coutard took no action and did
not work from Jan. 23, 2013, to Feb. 4, 2013, when he was fired for being absent
for more than two consecutive days without leave.

Coutard filed a
lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York,
alleging that MCU interfered with his right to take leave under the FMLA. MCU
moved for summary judgment to dismiss the claim because Coutard did not provide
sufficient information from which it could reasonably determine whether the
FMLA might apply to the request. Coutard also moved for summary judgment in his
favor, arguing that MCU was liable under the FMLA.

The district court
granted MCU’s motion for summary judgment, finding that Coutard did not give
MCU sufficient notice of his need for leave.

On appeal, the 2nd
Circuit disagreed and ruled that MCU should have inquired further when Coutard
stated that he wanted to take leave to care for his grandfather. The appeals
court faulted MCU’s notice of FMLA rights to Coutard, which stated that leave
was not available to care for a grandparent. According to FMLA regulations, the
employer must advise the employee that he or she need only provide sufficient
information to show that the requested leave may be FMLA-qualifying. If such
information is provided by the employee and the employer needs additional
information, it is the employer’s responsibility to request it.

The court found that
Coutard’s notice of his situation was sufficient to inform MCU of his potential
entitlement to FMLA leave. The appeals court reversed the district court’s
grant of summary judgment and set the case for trial. The court denied Coutard’s
motion for summary judgment in his favor, however, finding that MCU contested
whether Dumond’s medical situation rose to the level of a serious medical
condition and whether Dumond had raised Coutard in the place of his parents as
he claimed. These facts would have to be decided by a jury at trial.

To encourage full
disclosure by an employee, an employer should state clearly and fully all
circumstances in which the employee might be entitled to leave and should seek
clarification into a vague leave request to determine for certain whether the
leave is FMLA-qualifying. Your human resources department must be compliant
with employment law at all times, and have rules and regulations in place for
situations like these. For your HR needs, Converge HR Solutions is a team of
experts ready to partner with your business. To browse our services, visit https://convergehrsolutions.com/. Contact us directly at info@convergehrsolutions.com or 610-296-8550.

Article source: https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/pages/fmla-leave-sick-grandfather-in-place-of-parent.aspx

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