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FMLA claim finds clarification in Eleventh Circuit Court

It turns out the term “prospective rights” under a 2009 Family Medical Leave Act amendment is defined as “those allowing an employee to invoke FMLA protections at some unspecified time in the future,” so says the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

The ruling stems from a case in which a former Florida insurance company employee made retaliation and interference claims after signing a severance agreement. The signed agreement provided the former employee with severance benefits for 13 weeks in exchange for waiving an FMLA claim. The former employee originally sought FMLA leave in 2009 to take care of her sick mother, but she and the insurance company are at odds about whether or not her employers ever approved the leave.

Following her leave, the former employee allegedly received poor performance reviews and was offered a choice of signing a severance agreement or accepting a plan to improve her work performance. The woman reportedly chose the severance agreement but went on to join two other employees in a lawsuit accusing the insurance company of FMLA interference and retaliation.

Key in this case is terminology contained in the 2009 amendments to the Family Medical Leave Act’s implementing regulations, specifically the phrase “prospective rights.” The Eleventh Circuit ruled in favor of the insurance company, saying that the severance agreement properly waived only the former employee’s retrospective FMLA claims, not any prospective claims.

In short, the court found that the Family Medical Leave Act’s prohibition against waiving prospective rights means an employee cannot waive rights for FMLA violations that have yet to occur.

Although the court ruled against the former insurance company employee in this case, the ruling can help future victims of FMLA discrimination by clearly defining some of the language used in the FMLA. This means victims of discrimination, retaliation or interference have a stronger and more stable platform from which to seek legal action for FMLA violations.

Source: Bloomberg BNA, “Human Resources Eleventh Circuit Defines ‘Prospective Rights’ That Aren’t Waivable by Workers Under FMLA” Jay-Anne B. Casuga, Apr. 10, 2014

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