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Northern District of Illinois Refuses to Dismiss Case Where Worker Did Not Return from FMLA Leave in Harrell v. Jacobs Field Services North America, Inc.

In a previous post, we discussed the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The Act was passed in 1993 to allow workers who needed time off because of illness, or to help an ill family member, take it without fear of losing their jobs. Employees who work at companies with 50 or more employees can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave as long as they have worked for the company for at least 12 months. That should be fairly simple and straightforward, yet too often it isn’t. Often questions arise over whether an illness qualifies for FMLA leave, whether you must take the leave all at once or whether you can take it a few days at a time over several months. Another concern is whether you are following the proper procedures. If you want to find out more about FMLA leave, contact an experienced Illinois vacation attorney today.

Misunderstandings about proper procedures was the issue in Harrell v. Jacobs Field Services North America, Inc. Plaintiff Rodney Harrell sued his employer in federal district court because it allegedly would not allow him to return to work after taking leave under the FMLA. Plaintiff worked as a laborer in one of the defendant’s fabrication shops. He took three days off of work when he began to have problems with his allergies, then failed to show up to work or report his absence the following week. However, a week after he last called in sick to work, plaintiff called the superintendent of the shop and told him that he was requesting FMLA medical leave and needed the proper paperwork. Plaintiff received two forms, one that said his medical leave would begin August 18, 2008, and another was to provide certification of a serious medical condition. Plaintiff’s doctor filled out the second form, stating that plaintiff would be able to return to work on August 25th without any restrictions. On August 25th, plaintiff submitted Fitness for Duty forms to human resources.

Problems arose when plaintiff failed to return to work on September 2, 2008, after his vacation. Plaintiff claimed he was told he could not return to work until his FMLA leave had been approved. He alleged that he stopped by the fabrication shop the week of August 25th and asked his superintendent whether he had been cleared to return, and was told that the superintendent was still waiting to hear from human resources. His superintendent denied having spoken to plaintiff before October 6th and claimed that several meetings were held to discuss plaintiff’s absence. Plaintiff finally picked up his belongings on December 1, 2008, and defendant removed him from the payroll on February 13, 2009.

Plaintiff sought a ruling in his favor and defendant sought to have the case dismissed. Judge Michael McCuskey found that plaintiff’s illness was chronic, qualifying him for FMLA leave. However, there was a genuine dispute over whether defendant misrepresented to plaintiff when he could return to work, thus denying him his right to return under the FMLA. Until this dispute was resolved, the court could not rule in the plaintiff’s favor or dismiss the case.


The attorneys at Chicago Overtime Law Center have decades of experience litigating wage and hour cases, including overtime, vacation pay, meal breaks, and tips. The Chicago Overtime Law Center has offices conveniently located in Oakbrook Terrace and Chicago, Illinois. If you live in Illinois and have a wage and hour dispute, contact a Champaign overtime attorney today at 312-869-4095.