Employer leave policies and procedures, and court decisions regarding them and their interplay with state and federal leave laws, are a frequent ReedGroup blog topic. Recently, such as the case we reported on earlier this month, ReedGroup has seen a trend in cases in which the employer prevails, thanks partly to timely notifications that detail the leave process and employee responsibilities.
One such example is the recent Duran v. Stock Building Supply West, LLC (Stock). Robert Duran, a former employee of Stock, claimed that his employer interfered with his right to take protected leave under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) and wrongfully terminated him in retaliation for missing work to care for an ill family member. He further alleged that Stock did not take adequate steps to prevent retaliation.
Duran initially requested information about leave benefits through Stock’s Human Resources department. Although Stock responded timely via an email with attachments, Duran claimed his employer interfered with his right to CFRA by providing information that was inadequate and misleading, in part because the subject line of the email was not specific (it referred to ‘kin care leave’). The court disagreed, finding that when reviewed as a whole, the email and its attachments detailed the leave request process, including employee responsibilities, and specific benefits information about CFRA, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and California Paid Family Leave (CPFL). |
The instructions contained in the email specified that to initiate a leave of absence, Duran would need to submit a leave request form to a third-party administrator (TPA) that manages leaves for Stock and follow the TPA’s certification process. Unfortunately, Duran did not follow the process outlined in the documentation; he neither submitted the leave request form nor followed the TPA’s required certification process. As a result, the court determined that Duran did not ‘comply with his employer’s usual and customary notice and procedural requirements for requesting leave,’ 29 C.F.R. § 825.303(c), and therefore, Stock was under no obligation to designate Duran’s absence as CFRA-protected leave.
Duran also claimed interference based on a “persistent contact” theory, alleging that by contacting him repeatedly while he was absent, Stock interfered with Duran’s leave. In fact, the employer called Duran only once during his leave, thus negating the “persistent contact” piece of his argument. More importantly, the argument fails as the court held that Duran was not on a protected leave of absence due to his non-compliance with requirements set forth by his employer to take the protected leave.
In the court’s opinion, Duran failed to demonstrate that he exercised his right to take leave for a qualifying CFRA reason because he ‘did not follow his employer’s process or the TPA’s certification requirements,’ Avila v. Cont’l Airlines, Inc., 82 Cal. Rptr. 3d 440, 455 (Cal. Ct. App. 2008). Thus, his derivative claims of wrongful termination and failure to take reasonable steps to prevent retaliation had no basis.
Although this case’s details differ from the Kellogg USA, Inc., FMLA case we recently blogged about, the results are similar. In both cases, the employer (or TPA) prevailed in court because they administered the applicable leave law(s) correctly. When reviewing the Stock case, it’s important to remember that the employer is not the only one who has to follow specific processes and procedures – the employee has to do his or her part as well to move the leave process forward, including reading the notifications the employer sends and following the documented process.
Because ReedGroup is a TPA, we follow these types of cases closely and report on them when relevant to employers. We ensure that we use the most up-to-date compliance information in our leave administration to provide our clients with streamlined processes that reduce risk. Visit our website for more information about our leave administration services, as well as our online compliance tools, including LeaveAdvisor™.