An automaker provided confusing instructions about how an employee should notify the company that he was taking periodic leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, a federal appeals court said Wednesday, as it reinstated the worker’s FMLA benefits.
Edward Render began working as an assembly line worker for Auburn Hills, Michigan-based automaker FCA US LLC, the U.S. operation of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, in 2013. He was fired in 2015 for attendance violations, according to the decision of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati i Edward Render v. FCA USA, LLC.
After Mr. After filing a union grievance, he was reinstated under a conditional reinstatement letter that said the FCA could fire him if he incurred two unexcused “tardiness”; or one unexcused absence during a one-year probationary period.
In October 2017, approximately six months after his reinstatement, Mr. Render of intermittent FMLA leave due to major recurrent depression and an anxiety disorder, which was conditionally approved.
But letters from Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc., the FCA’s third-party leave administrator, gave conflicting instructions about how to call in to report that he used his periodic FMLA leave days.
Mr. Render was terminated by the company for violating his conditional reinstatement letter in January 2018. He filed suit in US District Court in Port Huron, Michigan, alleging interference and retaliation under the FMLA.
The district court granted the company summary judgment dismissing the case, and was overturned by a three-judge appeals court.
An employee “cannot be blamed for failing to follow company policy if the policy was unclear or if the employee lacked knowledge of the policy,” the ruling said.
In this case, Sedgwick’s letter on how to report that he was taking time off was “so confusing” that even an employee in the FCA’s human resources department “couldn’t decipher what it was asking employees to do” in terms of what phone numbers to call. “Understandably, Render did not follow these confusing instructions to a tee,” it said.
“Furthermore, Render took other steps to ensure that he accurately reported his FMLA days,” the ruling said, reinstating his charges and remanding the case for further proceedings.
Attorneys in the case did not respond to requests for comment.
It was announced in August that FCA, after pleading guilty to criminal conspiracy in June, would pay nearly $300 million to settle a multi-year Justice Department diesel emissions fraud investigation.