Court rules employer should pay more legal fees in FMLA case

Employers in Indiana and elsewhere in the country that interfere with federal law, such as refusing leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act to eligible workers, could be liable for their legal fees. The Seventh Circuit recently reversed the decision of a lower court to reduce the amount of legal fees an employer owed to a worker even though the employee may not have proved a claim of FMLA interference.

The case involved a woman whose FMLA leave allowed her to take her autistic son to the doctor. An employee is allowed to take up to 12 weeks of leave annually under FMLA to care for relatives after meeting certain requirements. Later, the woman requested FMLA leave to work from home. While FMLA does not cover this option, people can take two days a week to care for family members in certain circumstances. The company initially offered her the opportunity to work from home and care for her son, but in 2012, it said that employees could no longer work at home due to financial reasons. The woman received incorrect information from the company's human resource department and did not return to work.

The court saw this as possible retaliation. It also upheld the lower court's rulings on breach of contract, wage statute and bad faith misinformation.

Employees who must request FMLA leave are often already under stress because of their own medical problems or those of their loved ones. Unfortunately, both workers and employers sometimes misunderstand or misinterpret aspects of FMLA regulations. In other cases, employers might deliberately deny workers leave to which they are entitled or retaliate against them for taking time off. Those who have questions about their FMLA rights may want to consult an attorney.

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