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Steptoe & Johnson PLLC: FMLA Misstep Proves Costly to Energy Employer

By Lindsay M. Bouffard

An oil and gas support services company recently paid more than $43,000 in back wages and agreed to reinstate a terminated employee after a Department of Labor (DOL) investigation revealed the company terminated an employee in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  In this case, the employee worked on a rotational schedule, and the employer counted time which the employee was not scheduled to report to work against the employee’s 12-week FMLA leave entitlement, a clear violation of the FMLA.

A DOL survey of employers found that nearly 60% of all employees meet the criteria for coverage and eligibility under the FMLA.  It is essential that employers understand this complex law.  Here are a few FMLA basics to keep in mind:

Employer Coverage – The FMLA applies to private sector employers who employ 50 or more employees for at least 20 weeks in the current or previous calendar year.  Joint employers and successors of covered employers are included here.

Employee Eligibility – Employees must work for a covered employer and (a) have worked for that employer for at least 12 months, (b) have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months preceding the FMLA leave, and (c) work at a location with at least 50 or more employees within 75 miles.

Leave Entitlement – Employees may receive up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12 month period to (a) care for a newborn, adopted, or foster child, (b) care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition, and/or (c) care for himself or herself when the employee cannot work due to a serious health condition.

This alert provides foundational information about the FMLA, but it is a complex law with costly consequences for noncompliance. Employers should consult counsel to review their current FMLA policies and to assist in training supervisors and HR staff who will be tasked with ensuring FMLA compliance.

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