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Discouraging Employees from Taking FMLA Leave May Violate the Law

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) bestows eligible employees with the right to take 12 weeks of job-protected leave from work, whether due to a personal or family medical need, or for the birth or adoption of a child.

Unfortunately, some employers try to discourage employees from taking their federally protected leave. One Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals case, Ziccarelli v. Dart, considered whether discouraging employees from taking leave is a violation. The court held that discouraging leave may qualify as interference.

Ziccarelli v. Dart

This case involved a Cook County Sheriff’s Department employee who had worked for his employer nearly 30 years. During his employment, he used his FMLA benefits several times. When he went to request leave, the employer’s FMLA manager allegedly told him that he’d already taken “serious amounts of FMLA” and not to take any more, or he would be disciplined. Ziccarelli decided to retire, fearing dismissal, and filed a lawsuit.

The lower court ruled in favor of the employer’s summary judgment motion. Ziccarelli appealed, arguing his former employer both interfered with his FMLA rights, and retaliated against him for requesting leave. The Seventh Circuit agreed with the lower court’s retaliation ruling, but held that if the stated facts were true, threatening to discipline a qualified employee for seeking or using his available FMLA leave was tantamount to interference.

The employer argued that an actual denial of FMLA benefits would be required to constitute interference, but the Seventh Circuit rejected that claim. The case was remanded to the lower court for additional proceedings.

Therefore, employees who have been discouraged from using their FMLA benefits—even if they were not outright denied—may have a case for FMLA violation.

If your employer has discouraged you from taking your FMLA leave, call the experienced whistleblower attorneys at Kardell Law Group today.

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