The Family and Medical Leave Act applies to employers in all 50 U.S. states, but the federal law does not preempt or preclude state or local laws that provide greater leave rights. In fact, almost one-quarter of states in the U.S. have enacted their own FMLA legislation. Connecticut is one such state. The Connecticut Family and Medical Leave Act (CT FMLA) mirrors the federal law in many respects but has distinct differences. For example, employees who qualify for CT FMLA are entitled to 16 weeks of job protected leave to be used in a 24-month period. The federal counterpart provides 12 weeks of leave to be used in 12 months.
Connecticut employers with fewer than 75 employees do not need to comply with CT FMLA. However, until a few weeks ago, it was unclear whether employers with more than 75 employees nationwide but fewer than 75 working in the Nutmeg state were required to provide leave required by CT FMLA. The state statute does not answer this question, and there have been conflicting decisions from the Connecticut Department of Labor and the state Superior Court. In a win for Connecticut employers, the state Supreme Court chimed in and concluded that CT FMLA applies only to employers with at least 75 employees working in Connecticut.
The case traces back to Joaquina Velez, who worked as an office manager for Related Management Company (“RMC”) at an apartment complex in Hartford. RMC provides property management services across the country. At the time of Velez’s employment, the company had over 1,000 employees nationwide, but less than 75 working in Connecticut. Velez injured her hand when she fell at work. RMC approved 12 weeks of job protected leave, in accordance with federal FMLA. During her leave Velez requested a return to work with light duty. She was informed that no light duty positions were available, and she would have to return to the same position when fully recovered. At the end of the 12 weeks, Velez notified RMC that she still did not have the full use of her injured hand and was unable to return to her old position. She was terminated one week later.
Velez filed a complaint with the state Department of Labor’s Wage and Workplace Standards division. She claimed that RMC had violated her CT FMLA rights. The Department of Labor disagreed. The agency determined that RMC was not subject to state FMLA law because it had fewer than 75 employees in the state.
Unfortunately for RMC, Velez didn’t stop there. She filed an appeal in the state Superior Court, and she won. RMC appealed to the state Supreme Court, and the Justices agreed with RMC and the Department of Labor (that’s correct, the employer and the labor department were on the same side!) that RMC was not covered by CT FMLA. The Justices pointed out that Velez’s interpretation of the statute would lead to a “logistical nightmare” for the Department of Labor because it would be required to conduct investigations into employment records of employers well beyond the borders of Connecticut. In addition, employers with a single employee in Connecticut but more than 75 employees nationwide would have to comply with the law. The court determined this was too broad a reading of the statute.
Remember, although RMC escaped the CT FMLA liability, the employer still had to abide by federal law. Click here for information on whether your state has its own variety of FMLA protection. For further information about FMLA leave, be sure to visit our FMLA blog archive or contact any of the attorneys at Skoler Abbott.