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Employee nap not considered FMLA-protected

Texas employers may struggle with knowing when it is appropriate to grant Family and Medical Leave Act leave to an employee. Often, guidance can only come from looking at how courts ruled in various cases. One example from a hospital in Ohio is instructive. A nurse who was employed there suffered from frequent migraines. Her colleagues complained that she sometimes vanished from work due to them, and she was also written up for missing work.

The hospital explored making accommodations for her condition, but it determined that she was ineligible for them. Next, it suggested that she take FMLA leave for the condition. The hospital subsequently approved all of her requests for FMLA leave including one in which she left in the middle of a shift.

However, a problem arose when the nurse left a pregnant patient unattended to take a nap. The hospital fired the nurse for what it called a major infraction. The nurse claimed in a lawsuit that her nap was protected by FMLA, but the court ruled against her. She fulfilled several of the criteria for FMLA protection, but the problem was that she had given her employer no notice before she took this particular leave. Furthermore, the hospital's record of granting her FMLA leave on each of her requests demonstrated the employer's willingness to make FMLA accommodations.

The lesson employers can learn from this is that it is important to remain in compliance with federal regulations and to have documentation of that compliance. For example, had the hospital denied her FMLA leave on other occasions, it might not have had as strong a case. A company that has an employee who asks for either accommodations or FMLA leave may want to consult an attorney to help ensure that it behaves legally and documents its actions adequately to protect from lawsuits.

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