The Family Medical Leave Act protects certain workers from losing their job when they need to take time off from work. This time includes time off to be with a new baby, or to care for a sick family member. When an employee qualifies for FMLA leave, the employer must hold the employee’s job for them for up to 12 weeks. During this time, the employee does not need to get paid but FMLA specifics can be complicated. Determining how to properly take FMLA leave, or whether a California employee qualifies for leave can often create confusion.

One California worker has sued her former employee for FMLA leave violations. The woman worked on a California poultry farm for 18 years before she was fired. According to the woman, she requested time off from her job in order to travel to Guatemala to care for her sick father. The woman, whose second language is English, apparently requested vacation time. She was granted two weeks of vacation. Company officials claim that they offered her more time off under FMLA, but the woman refused it.

Now, according to court documents, the woman ended up staying past the two weeks that was granted. Since she violated the company’s three-day no call, no show rule, she was terminated. The woman sued arguing that FMLA should have automatically covered the time when the woman was absent past her vacation. She argues that FMLA covers a qualifying employee whether they request it or if they initially deny it.

Two California courts have disagreed with the woman. Recently, the Ninth Court of Appeals has sided with the woman’s former employer, claiming that the FMLA did not apply. Therefore, the employer was free to terminate.

California employees who need to take time off to care for a sick relative need to make sure they understand the FMLA and other applicable state employment laws. With the right understanding, people can protect their jobs and take care of their family.

Source: Bloomberg, “Ninth Circuit Upholds Verdict Against Worker Who Expressly Declined Use of FMLA Leave,” Feb. 27, 2014