The Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) is a federal law which allows eligible employees to take a leave of absence from work for several reasons such as when dealing with a serious health condition. The FMLA prohibits an employer from interfering, restraining, or denying an employee’s right to exercise a leave of absence under the FMLA.
A “serious health condition” under the FMLA includes “an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that involves . . . continuing treatment by a health care provider.”
One of the purposes of the FMLA is to help employees balance the demands of the workplace with their personal medical concerns. However, conditions which qualify as a “serious health condition” for FMLA purposes is often disputed.
On June 30, 2017, in Pollard v. The New York Methodist Hospital, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, New York’s highest federal court, held that a hospital employee who had a benign growth on her foot had a “serious health condition” as defined by the FMLA despite the hospital’s argument that her foot condition did not qualify.
In Pollard, the plaintiff was a medical records file clerk for the New York Methodist Hospital. She developed a soft tissue mass growth on her left foot that became increasingly painful. Pollard decided to have the growth surgically removed and scheduled the surgery for March 28, 2013.
Pollard spoke to the hospital’s leave specialist to request FMLA leave for her surgery and post operation recovery. Later, the hospital’s leave specialist responded to Pollard’s FMLA leave request and said that hospital employees needed to provide at least thirty days’ notice of their FMLA leave and requested that she wait until at least April 19 to have the surgery done.
Due to the increasing pain and because the growth on her foot was limiting her ability to perform her job since she was required to stand and walk for most of the day, Pollard decided not to reschedule the March 28 surgery date.
Pollard underwent surgery on March 28, 2013 and on April 1, 2013, she received a letter stating that she was being fired for not reporting to work on March 28.
At the lower district court, Pollard argued that her case was covered under a part of the FMLA which states that “conditions requiring multiple treatments” constitute a “serious health condition.”
After the surgery, Pollard followed up with the podiatrist several times for post-operative treatment and evaluations. Yet, the lower court held that Pollard’s foot growth did not qualify as a “serious health condition.” In other words, the lower court thought that she received “treatment” for the growth on her foot only when it was surgically removed and did not think that she had received “multiple treatments” as required by the FMLA.
However, on June 30, 2017, the Second Circuit disagreed with the district court’s ruling on what constituted “treatment.” The Second Circuit held that the hospital didn’t prove that Pollard’s required post-operative appointments were not a required part of the surgical treatment. As such, the Second Circuit did not see why the post operative treatment and evaluations that Pollard received were not considered part of the “treatment” as required under the FMLA.
In sum, although one of the purposes of the FMLA is to help employees balance the demands of the workplace with their personal medical concerns, what qualifies as a “serious health condition” for FMLA purposes may not always be clear.
If you have questions about the FMLA or any other benefits to which you may be entitled as a worker in the state of New York, contact the Long Island employment lawyers at Famighetti & Weinick, PLLC. Our phone number is 631-352-0050 and our website is http://linycemployment.com.
Today’s employment law blog was written by Thalia Olaya, a Hofstra Law School intern working at Famighetti & Weinick, PLLC, this summer.
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