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 It rescinded all work-from-home arrangements and directed all employees to report back to the office the following week.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
As the fact sheets from the Department of Labor show, 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.