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Employers could be responsible for FMLA mistakes

Employers in New York could create liability for their organizations if written communications contain errors regarding a worker's eligibility under the Family Medical Leave Act. An appeals court ruling allowed one employee's FMLA legal complaint to go to a jury even though the person had not technically qualified for the leave.

The appellate court based the decision on the legal concept of equitable estoppel. This principle prevents a party from using a legal argument that contradicts an earlier action. The case involved an employee of a road commission who lost his position after taking a leave that he thought was legally available. The employer's policy had stated that any full-time employee who had worked 1,250 hours within the last 12 months had protection under the FMLA.

This definition failed to mention the important third aspect of eligibility, which was that the employer should have at least 50 employees within a radius of 75 miles. When the organization asked to dismiss the employee's complaint because he was not eligible, the appeals court cited the fact that the employer had mistakenly informed the person that he did meet the qualifications.

When a person falls into a dispute with an employer about rights, an attorney could study the situation and determine if employment discrimination has taken place. Someone repeatedly denied a raise or promotion, subjected to harassment or terminated for complaining about illegal actions might recover damages with a lawsuit. An attorney could organize evidence found in an employer's policies, evaluations, internal communications and testimony from co-workers. Initially, an attorney might communicate the legal complaint to the employer and seek a settlement out of court. Otherwise, an attorney might present the case to a jury and strive to present sufficient evidence of the employer's wrongdoing to win a settlement at trial.

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