6th Circuit: Failure to Provide FMLA Notice is Interference

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has found that failing to provide a notice required under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) constitutes interference with FMLA rights. The employer failed to provide an FMLA designation notice explaining that the employee’s reinstatement would be contingent on providing a fitness-for-duty certification.

The case is Casagrande v. OhioHealth.

After Joseph Casagrande took a leave of absence for a medical condition, he sought to return to his job as a registered nurse. He encountered multiple delays in returning to work, followed by termination of employment. He filed suit, alleging that OhioHealth interfered with his right to return to work immediately after receiving medical clearance and that OhioHealth retaliated against him for taking FMLA leave. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants on both claims, and Casagrande appealed that decision. Because there are genuine disputes of fact concerning his claims, the 6th Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment and remanded the case for trial.

Casagrande began his employment with OhioHealth on December 5, 2011. The position was Casagrande’s first job out of nursing school and he had performance issues. His medical problems were aggravated by the stress of his new career and his performance issues. When he took his first medical leave, OhioHealth made it clear to Casagrande that he was not eligible for FMLA leave because he had not been employed there for the necessary minimum of 12 months. When Casagrande’s took a second medical leave of absence, OhioHealth again made it clear that Casagrande was not eligible for FMLA leave because he had still not worked for the required twelve months’ minimum.

While on leave, Casagrande received notification that his position had been filled; however, days before that notice, he had passed the one-year mark as an employee of OhioHealth and met the FMLA’s threshold requirement.

When Casagrande was ready to go back to work, he contacted a case manager who told him that he needed a return-to-work release. Casagrande called the Department of Labor to confirm that he became eligible for FMLA protections on the one-year mark of his employment–even though he was on leave. He passed this information along to the hospital repeatedly, but it reiterated its understanding that he was not eligible for FMLA protections because he was not working when he reached one year.

OhioHealth finally investigated Casagrande’s FMLA eligibility and determined that its original position was mistaken and restored him to his prior position. Casagrande filed this lawsuit and then went back to work.

Allegations of deficiencies in Casagrande’s performance began to mount. By this time, Casagrande had come to believe that he was being set up. OhioHealth fired Casagrande, for performance issues and he added a retaliation claim to his lawsuit. The district court awarded summary judgment to the defendants on both claims.

Casagrande contended that OhioHealth denied him FMLA benefits when, he was not restored to his prior position right away. OhioHealth responded that he was not entitled to job restoration until he provided a medical certification clearing him to return to work. Casagrande acknowledged that, under the FMLA, an employer may apply a uniform policy or practice of requiring medical certification from a healthcare provider before an employee returns to work. He insisted, however, that OhioHealth did not have such a policy or, if it did, that the policy was not properly applied.

The 6th Circuit concluded that there is a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether OhioHealth had a policy of requiring return-to-work releases before employees could return to work and even if they did, there was also a dispute as to whether Casagrande was adequately informed of it.

The 6th Circuit found that OhioHealth interfered with his FMLA rights because OhioHealth did not inform him of the consequences of failing to provide a certification. OhioHealth had the duty to make a correct FMLA-eligibility determination and notify Casagrande of his eligibility, of the requirements and of the consequences of failing to adhere to them, thus, OhioHealth must bear the consequences of its mistaken belief that Casagrande was not FMLA-eligible.

This case should serve as a reminder of the importance of meeting FMLA notice deadlines and of providing complete information to employees regarding any requirements, such as fitness-for-duty certifications.

About John Garner

John Garner has over thirty five years of experience in employee benefits. He specializes in compliance, health care reform, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). He helps clients with life, health, and disability benefits, cost containment, flexible benefits, and claim consulting.

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