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February 14, 2001
FMLA & Sick Leave Relationship Confusing Employers - and Courts
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you find Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) regulations confusing? Don't feel too bad -- even the courts don't always agree on what they mean.

In a recent case, a federal district court and an appellate court had two very different readings of the FMLA as it relates to paid sick leave. The issue -- if an employer offers paid sick leave to its employees, must the employee exhaust the sick leave before he or she can take (and be protected by) FMLA leave?

Russell Strickland, who has diabetes, was employed at the Water Works and Sewer Board of the City of Birmingham, Alabama. In March 1997, he had a conversation with his supervisor who wanted to know why Strickland had not handled a customer complaint regarding a water bill that he had been asked to settle a few days earlier. Strickland claims that he explained to his supervisor that his diabetes was affecting his vision, thus preventing him from visiting and inspecting the customer's premises in order to settle the complaint.

A brouhaha ensued, Strickland left, got fired, and a lawsuit ensued. One court sided with the employer. On appeal a higher court ruled for the employee, although it did say that the Department of Labor's regulation had some "unfortunate" language.

For the court's answer on this complex case, go to:
http://www.blr.com/hr/online/newsletter/index.cfm?article=162

To view the court case go to: http://laws.lp.findlaw.com/11th/9914103opn.html .

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