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2018 DOL Opinion Letter Under the FMLA
Posted 09.11.18
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Jonathan A. Segal
Partner
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I am pleased to provide my latest post to The SHRM Blog. 

Many employers have no-fault attendance control policies.  Stated generally:

  1. An employee’s employment terminates if he or she has a certain number of occurrences in a specified period of time.
  2. An occurrence “falls off,” and therefore is not considered, after a specified period of time, for example 12 months after the occurrence.

The law is clear that employers cannot consider time off under the FMLA as an occurrence under its no-fault attendance control policy.  But does the time that the employee is on FMLA leave count toward the period of time after which a point “falls off?”

The Department of Labor issued in August its first opinion letters under the FMLA in more than 9 years, and one (1) of the two (2) addresses this precise issue.  The opinion letter can be found at: https://www.dol.gov/whd/opinion/FMLA/2018/2018_08_28_1A_FMLA.pdf

The Department of Labor concluded that the period of time in which an employee is on FMLA does not need to be considered as part of the time necessary for an occurrence to fall off, provided that the employer applies this rule on a non-discriminatory policy basis.  For example, if the time an employee is on paid parental leave beyond the FMLA counts toward the period of time after which a point falls off, then not counting the time off covered by the FMLA would be discriminatory.

It is important that employers focus on this issue.  It is also important to note that a court might not agree with the DOL opinion letter.  As important, agencies or courts interpreting the ADA could come out with a different result under the ADA.

Further, the answer may be different with state and local leave laws.  We know that many state and local leave laws provide employees with greater protection than federal law.

So, while I am sure I am not alone in being grateful that the DOL has started to issue opinion letters again not only under the FLSA but also under the FMLA, employers need to be careful not to reach certain conclusions too quickly based on them.

This blog should not be construed as legal advice or as pertaining to specific factual situations.

 

About Jonathan A. Segal
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Jonathan A. Segal is a partner at Duane Morris LLP in the Employment Group. He is also the managing principal of the Duane Morris Institute. The Duane Morris Institute provides training for human resource professionals, in-house counsel, and other leaders at client sites and by way of webinar on myriad employment, leadership labor, benefits and immigration topics. Jonathan has served intermittently as a consultant to the Federal Judicial Center in Washington, D.C. for more than 20 years, providing training on employment issues to federal judges around the country. Jonathan also has provided training on harassment on behalf of the EEOC as well as providing training on diversity to members of the United States intelligence agencies. Jonathan is also frequently a featured speaker at national, state and local human resource, business and legal conferences, including conferences sponsored by the Society for Human Resource Management and the Pennsylvania State Chamber of Business and Industry. Jonathan’s practice focuses on maximizing compliance and minimizing legal risk. Jonathan’s particular areas of emphasis include: equal employment opportunity in general and gender equality in particular: social media; wage and hour; performance management; talent acquisition; harassment prevention and correction; and non-competes and other ways to protect your business. You can find him on Twitter @Jonathan_HR_Law .