Eligible employees may take unpaid leave for up to twelve weeks during a twelve-month period for “a serious health condition” that prevents the employee from performing her job functions, pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). 29 U.S.C. § 2612. The employee generally must be returned to the same or an equivalent position. 29 U.S.C. § 2614. The law also protects the employee from retaliation or discrimination.
The Supreme Judicial Court recently decided a case involving allegations of FMLA retaliation in Esler v. Sylvia-Reardon. The plaintiff had worked as a hemodialysis nurse at the hospital for several years. In November of 2008, the plaintiff requested FMLA leave for symptoms partly related to a blood disorder. The hospital approved the request for leave from November 14 through December 15, 2008. The plaintiff’s symptoms included fatigue and anxiety, and her doctor had recommended she engage in light exercise and pleasurable activities. She visited friends in New York during her leave and injured her wrist ice skating. Her supervisor called while she was in New York, stating that the FMLA paperwork had not been received and the plaintiff’s job was in jeopardy. The plaintiff told her supervisor that she was in New York, and the supervisor questioned her being on vacation while she was on FMLA leave. When the plaintiff told her supervisor about her injury, the supervisor said the plaintiff needed to come back the following week or she could not hold her job.
After learning she needed surgery for her injury, the plaintiff submitted another request for FMLA leave. The hospital approved the request for leave from December 8, 2008, through February 6, 2009, a total of twelve weeks from the initial leave.