Employment Law News- FMLA Update

By Rudman Winchell Attorney

By Rudman Winchell Attorney Anne-Marie Storey

A recent decision from a court in a jurisdiction outside of Maine has ruled that an employee can combine two medical conditions, neither of which alone is a serious health condition as defined by the federal FMLA, into one condition that does meet that definition.

The employee suffered from two conditions, both of which caused problems with her ability to urinate. She sought treatment for that symptom and missed a Friday from work. She was incapacitated over the weekend and emailed her supervisor from the hospital on Sunday saying she was not going to be at work on Monday. The supervisor responded by saying if she missed that day she would be terminated. She was in fact terminated and then brought an FMLA claim, alleging interference and retaliation. The employer argued that she did not have a serious health condition because she was not incapacitated for more than three days as the statute requires. Specifically, the employer alleged that her incapacity on Friday and Saturday were due to one of her conditions whereas the incapacity on Sunday and Monday were due to the other condition. The court rejected this argument. It found that although neither condition alone incapacitated her for three or more consecutive days, the two conditions together can constitute a serious health condition where they are “temporarily linked” to affect the same organ system.

With regard to the retaliation claim, the employee relied on a sentence in her termination letter that actually said “Originally was suspended for 30 days, threatened to sue company and management. It was then decided that termination was the best”. Needless to say, the court allowed the retaliation claim to proceed based on this language.

Although this decision is not binding in Maine, it is an interesting interpretation and should be factored into analysis of leave requests. In addition, the language of the termination letter is a perfect example of what NOT to do!

If you have questions about these issues, please do not hesitate to contact me or another member of our employment team.

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