Woman Says She Was Fired Because of Obligations to Her Autistic Child
Company misinformed staffer about her rights under the FMLA
It’s sad but true: many companies take advantage of the fact that
workers aren’t aware of their rights under the law.
That’s what may have happened in a recent case, in which a human
resources representative incorrectly told a woman that she was not allowed
to take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to care for
her autistic son.
Unfortunately for the company, this woman did not take that explanation
at face value. After she was fired, she spoke to an attorney and sued.
Let’s take a look at what happened in this case and then discuss
what it means to you.
Tracy Wink worked as an order processer for Miller Compressing Company.
She applied for, and was granted, intermittent FMLA leave to take her
toddler son to appointments related to his autism.
However, after Wink’s son was expelled from daycare for aggressive
behavior, her obligations to her son increased. She asked for permission
to work from home two days a week to care for her child. Her mother planned
to watch the boy during the remaining three weekdays.
The company said yes. Wink was asked to track her hours, and was told she
would only be paid for the hours she worked.
However, a few months later, the company began experiencing financial trouble.
It rescinded all work-from-home arrangements and directed all employees
to report back to the office the following week.
Wink explained that she would probably not be able to find daycare before
the following Monday. The human resources officer told Wink that there
was no leeway in the arrangement. Wink was also told that FMLA could only
be used for doctor’s appointments or therapy.
Wink was unable to find daycare in time and was fired.
She spoke to an attorney and sued the company for retaliating against her
for exercising her rights under the FMLA.
The company lost. The court noted that the company had given Wink incorrect
information about FMLA. It stated that Wink should’ve been eligible
to use FMLA to care for her son who was suffering from the condition of autism.
Wink was awarded damages and attorneys’ fees.
What you need to know
In addition to other provisions, the FMLA allows eligible employees to
take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year in order to care for family
members with serious health conditions. That leave may also be taken as
intermittent leave, rather than used all at once.
Intermittent leave or reduced schedules may be used when it becomes medically
necessary for an employee to care for a seriously ill family member, or
because of an employee’s own health condition.
Only the amount of leave taken may be charged against an eligible employee’s
allotted 12 weeks.
The FMLA also prohibits companies from retaliating against workers who
exercise their rights under the FMLA. That is, workers may not be fired,
demoted, or subjected to other adverse employment actions after requesting
or taking FMLA leave.
(The case discussed here is
Wink v. Miller Compressing Company.)
Contact us now for a consultation
fact sheet from the Department of Labor shows, issues surrounding FMLA can be complicated.
If you believe that you have been unlawfully denied FMLA leave, or penalized
for exercising your rights under the FMLA, it’s a good idea to speak
to an attorney.
Call or email us today to discuss your unique situation.