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Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Finds That Plaintiff Did Not Follow FMLA Requirements in Richi v. SMC Corp

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was passed in 1993 with the goal of letting workers who needed time off because of illness, or to help an ill family member, take it without fear of losing their jobs. For employees who work at companies with 50 or more employees, the FMLA allows them to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, provided they have worked for the company for at least 12 months. The 12 weeks of leave do not apply to every illness: only certain cases are covered by the FMLA. Furthermore, the FMLA has strict protocols that an employee must follow in order to qualify. If you are unsure of whether your leave would be covered by the FMLA, talk to a Chicago wage and hour attorney before you apply.

In Richi v. SMC Corp, the plaintiff, Robert Richi, claimed that the defendant had violated the FMLA by firing him for taking his rightful vacation time. Richi worked as a sales representative in the Aurora, Illinois office. While at a training seminar out of state, he learned that his mother had a medical emergency. Richi left and returned to Illinois, later emailing his supervisor that he would need a couple of more days off to make arrangements for her care. He claimed that he thought that his existing vacation time would cover it, and considered applying for the FMLA, but did not want to do so “at this time.” Richi remained absent for nine days. During that time, his supervisor allegedly tried calling him numerous times, with no success. Finally, when Richi returned, he was terminated for allegedly violating the company’s leave policy.

Richi argued that his actions were protected by the FMLA, and therefore he should not have been terminated. The defendant countered that he was not protected because he never sought to take his leave under the FMLA in the first place. The FMLA states that employers may not “interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of or the attempt to exercise, any right provided under [the Act].” In order to show that he was entitled to FMLA protection, the plaintiff would need to show that (1) he was eligible; (2) his employer was covered; (3) he was entitled to leave; (4) he provided sufficient notice; and (5) his employer denied him his rightful benefits.

The Seventh Circuit found that while Richi met the first three steps, he failed on the fourth step. The FMLA did not entitle employees to leave their employers wondering where they were and when they would return. Instead, the FMLA requires the employee to give notice of “anticipated timing and duration of the leave.” Richi only told his supervisor that he would be taking the next couple of days off. He would not respond to his supervisor’s attempts to get more information about his leave. The defendant did its part; when Richi mentioned that he might consider invoking the FMLA, the defendant tried to inquire further, in an attempt to make preparations for him to take FMLA leave. Because Richi failed to properly notify his supervisors, they did not deny him of rightful benefits. The Seventh Circuit therefore ruled in favor of the defendant.

The attorneys at Chicago Overtime Law Center have decades of experience litigating wage and hour cases, including overtime, meal breaks, vacation pay, and tips. We have offices conveniently located in Oakbrook Terrace and Chicago, Illinois. Contact a Joliet wage and hour attorney at the Chicago Overtime Law Center today at 312-869-4095.