Monday, August 4, 2014

You cannot fire an employee who asks for time off for his pregnant wife's medical appointment

One of the very first posts I ever wrote on this blog, all the back in May of 2007, detailed the EEOC’s then-recent publication of enforcement guidance on what it called caregiver discrimination. It seems that more than seven years later, some employers still haven’t gotten the message. Consider, for example, Rice v. Kellermeyer Company (N.D. Ohio 7/15/14).

In early 2012, Ronald Rice, the VP of Sales at Kellermeyer, announced to his co-workers that his wife was pregnant with their first child. On June 6, Rice requested permission to use vacation time from June 11 through June 15, in part because of “an unexpected appointment” for his pregnant wife. Rice’s supervisor declined to permit Rice to use paid leave for June 14 and June 15, and told him that if he “chose to take those days off, they will be unpaid.” Rice then requested FMLA paperwork from the director of human resources, to enable him to attend the appointment. Three days later, he was fired.

With these facts, the district court showed no hesitation in denying the employer’s motion for summary judgment and sending this case to a jury to decide.

In writing about this case on his FMLA Insights blog, Jeff Nowak said, “We have to stop sticking it to pregnant moms and expectant dads.” He’s 100 percent correct. We have a parental crisis in this country. No one should have to choose between a job and “an unexpected appointment” for one’s expectant wife. More broadly, no one should have to choose between a job and a family responsibility or event. 

Employers, we are facing a crisis over the issue of parental leave. The more stories we hear like Ronald Rice’s, the louder the cry will become for Congress to step in and fix this problem legislatively. Do you want new laws passed that will mandate expanded parental leave for more employers, or do you want the FMLA to remain as it is? As long as there exists employers like the employer in this case, the cry for expanded parental leave rights will continue. Eventually, it will become too loud for Congress to ignore. Be proactive with these issues in your own workplace, or Congress will become reactive. The choice is yours.