Benefits & Compensation News

Employee with ‘serious health condition’ still didn’t qualify for FMLA protections

Patrick Hurley had worked the requisite amount of hours to quality for FMLA leave. He also had a “serious health condition” under the FMLA. His employer was also covered under the law. So why didn’t he qualify for FMLA leave? 

First, some background:

Hurley was the president of a branch of Kent Security for eight years. During that time he rarely took time off, and suffered from bouts of depression and anxiety.

Eventually, his doctor told him that he needed to take vacation time. So Hurley sent a letter to his company’s CEO explaining that he planned to take 11 weeks of vacation time over the next two years. The CEO denied the request and asked to meet with Hurley.

During the meeting, Hurley explained that as a result of his problems with depression and anxiety his doctors informed him that taking a vacation was “no longer optional.”

The CEO refused to budge on Hurley’s vacation request and, after the meeting turned confrontational, terminated Hurley.

Hurley then sued claiming his rights under the FMLA had been interfered with and that his termination was in retaliation for requesting vacation time.

A court ruled in favor of Hurley and awarded him $1.2M.

Certification not provided

The employer appealed the ruling and was successful in getting the ruling overturned.

Why did the appeals court overturn the ruling?

On the surface, it appeared as though Hurley had a pretty solid case, especially after you consider the fact that the appeals court acknowledged that Hurley suffered from a “serious health condition” under the FMLA — one that could potentially qualify him for FMLA leave.

But the appeals court dug deeper into the law and found that Hurley didn’t actually qualify for the FMLA’s protections.

The problem with Hurley’s case — according to the appeals court — was that he and his physician didn’t certify that he needed to take a vacation to seek medical treatment or because his condition would leave him incapacitated.

The court said the FMLA only authorizes leave for “any period of incapacity or treatment for such incapacity due to a chronic serious health condition.”

As a result, Hurley’s leave didn’t qualify as FMLA leave, so he wasn’t protected under the law.

The court also said that it was possible that Hurley’s leave may have qualified for FMLA at the time he was to take it, but “potentially qualifying” FMLA leave also doesn’t trigger FMLA protections.

Hurley tried to argue that he was protected under the FMLA because he suffered from a serious health condition and the leave he requested would be beneficial to his health.

But the court threw out that argument, saying the FMLA doesn’t cover leave simply because it’s medically beneficial. It only covers leave for a period of incapacity or treatment, the court ruled in overturning the $1.2M verdict.

Cite: Hurley v. Kent of Naples, Inc.

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  • Gailerina

    The back and forth with FMLA makes no sense. In other cases a court would have said that the employee should know he needed FMLA and prepared for it.