Be Right The First Time - Employers Must Ensure That Their Policies Describe FMLA Rights Properly In The First Instance

The Sixth Circuit has recently taught us the old lesson that employer policies must be in line with the law on a given point, or else employers risk granting employees rights that they wouldn’t otherwise want to grant, or be required to grant.

In Tilley v. Kalamazoo Cnty. Road Comm’n, No. 14-CV-1679, (6th Cir. Jan. 26, 2015) Tilley brought a claim for interference with his rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). The Court held that the Commission did not have the requisite amount of employees in the required geographic radius (50 employees at or within 75 miles) to be covered by the FMLA. However, Tilley claimed that the Commission should be estopped from denying that the he was covered under the FMLA because its handbook misrepresented the FMLA qualifications. The handbook only stated that employees would be eligible for FMLA leave if they worked the requisite number of hours, leaving out a qualifying statement that employees would have to work within 75 miles of a site where employer had 50 or more employees. The Court held that the handbook was sufficiently misleading and remanded the matter to the district court to decide the estoppel issue.

The Sixth Circuit’s analysis is interesting because it left the door open for an employee to receive FMLA leave even though the employee was otherwise ineligible under the language of the law. Employers should review their handbook to ensure that they state precisely the requirements of the FMLA so that employees will not be able to bring an argument like the one in Tilley.