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FMLA leave doesn't accrue hours for benefits

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed an Indiana District judge's decision that an employee on family medical leave doesn't accrue those hours for benefits and can be fired for violating attendance policies.

The decision comes in Michelle L. Bailey v. Pregis Innovative Packaging, Inc., No. 09-3539, which involves a Family and Medical Leave Act dispute out of the Northern District of Indiana's South Bend Division. U.S. Judge Philip Simon had granted summary judgment for the employer, which had used its "no-fault attendance policy" to fire Bailey for absenteeism during a 12-month period.

She claimed two absences in July 2006 were allowed through the FMLA and couldn't be used in the firing decision, but her employer disagreed that those absences were covered because she hadn't actually worked 1,250 hours the previous year in order to be eligible for FMLA time off. Bailey argued that her time off in the preceding year should have been credited and not counted toward the attendance policy.

"There is no basis for such a contortion of the statute - no hint in the statute or elsewhere that Congress envisaged and approved such a circumvention of the requirement than an applicant for FMLA leave have worked 1,250 hours in the preceding 12 months," 7th Circuit Judge Richard Posner wrote. "We can't find a case directly on point, but are supported in our conclusion by the refusal of courts including our own to interpret the statutory term 'service' in an expansive fashion that would dilute the 1,250-hour requirement."

The 7th Circuit also addressed another of Bailey's arguments: that Pregis Innovative Packaging retaliated against her for taking FMLA leave by not wiping clean some of her past absences at the end of a 12-month period. The issue was whether this counts as an "employment benefit" as defined by the FMLA. Weighing both a Department of Labor position on the issue and specific caselaw, the 7th Circuit decided that these absenteeism point removals should be considered an employment benefit.

However, Bailey doesn't get any benefit from this decision because the court has held that an employee can't accrue any employment benefits during any period of leave.

"An employee must not be penalized by being deprived, just because he is on family leave, of a benefit that he has earned (i.e., that has been accrued to him)," Judge Posner wrote. "But by the same token he cannot, when on family leave, accrue benefits that accrue only by working."

The defendant's no-fault attendance policy is a lawful way to determine whether an employee has, despite absences, a sufficiently strong commitment to working for that employer, the court found. Bailey didn't show that commitment in this case, and the District judge's decision is affirmed.

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  1. Family court judges never fail to surprise me with their irrational thinking. First of all any man who abuses his wife is not fit to be a parent. A man who can't control his anger should not be allowed around his child unsupervised period. Just because he's never been convicted of abusing his child doesn't mean he won't and maybe he hasn't but a man that has such poor judgement and control is not fit to parent without oversight - only a moron would think otherwise. Secondly, why should the mother have to pay? He's the one who made the poor decisions to abuse and he should be the one to pay the price - monetarily and otherwise. Yes it's sad that the little girl may be deprived of her father, but really what kind of father is he - the one that abuses her mother the one that can't even step up and do what's necessary on his own instead the abused mother is to pay for him???? What is this Judge thinking? Another example of how this world rewards bad behavior and punishes those who do right. Way to go Judge - NOT.

  2. Right on. Legalize it. We can take billions away from the drug cartels and help reduce violence in central America and more unwanted illegal immigration all in one fell swoop. cut taxes on the savings from needless incarcerations. On and stop eroding our fourth amendment freedom or whatever's left of it.

  3. "...a switch from crop production to hog production "does not constitute a significant change."??? REALLY?!?! Any judge that cannot see a significant difference between a plant and an animal needs to find another line of work.

  4. Why do so many lawyers get away with lying in court, Jamie Yoak?

  5. Future generations will be amazed that we prosecuted people for possessing a harmless plant. The New York Times came out in favor of legalization in Saturday's edition of the newspaper.

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