Seventh Circuit Rules Discouraging Employees from Taking Leave Violates the FMLA

Employees eligible for FMLA protections may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year. Employers and employees are also prohibited from denying, restraining or interfering with an employee attempting to exercise their FMLA rights. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that even discouraging an employee from taking leave violates the FMLA—even if the employer didn’t actually deny benefits.

Case background

A corrections officer in Illinois was diagnosed with work-related PTSD in September 2016. He called the sheriff’s department FMLA manager to talk about taking leave for an eight-week treatment program. The officer did not have eight weeks left of FMLA leave for 2016, so he planned to combine his remaining FMLA leave, annual leave and sick leave so that he could attend.

When he discussed this plan with the leave manager, he claims she told him he’d be disciplined if he took more FMLA leave. The manager herself claims she said he’d be disciplined if he had more leave than he currently had available.

The plaintiff sued on the grounds of FMLA interference and constructive discharge. The federal district court ruled against him, but the Seventh Circuit allowed his interference claim on appeal, citing the considerable questions of fact.

Ultimately, the court ruled that employers interfere with FMLA rights when they threaten to discipline employees for seeking or using their FMLA leave. They don’t have to deny the leave to interfere. Even a “burdensome approval process” rises to the level of interference.

To prevail on an interference claim, the Seventh Circuit held that employees have to show they were prejudiced by an employer’s actions. For instance, if an employee never applies for leave because they were threatened with dismissal, that constitutes prejudice.

If your employer has interfered with your FMLA leave, help is available. Talk to an experienced whistleblower attorney at Kardell Law Group today.