Court Tightens Reins on FMLA Policies

When Alice Repa underwent surgery for a non-work related injury, she asked for a leave of absence to recuperate. Her employer--trucking company Roadway Express--approved her request. But in accord with its FMLA policies, the company required Repa to use her accrued sick days and paid-vacation time as part of the 12 weeks of medical leave that FMLA guaranteed.

Repa didn't want to spend her vacation days recovering from surgery, so after she returned to work she sued Roadway in a Wisconsin district court, arguing her employer violated Department of Labor (DOL) regulations. The court granted summary judgment to Repa in 2005, ruling Roadway couldn't force her to use her paid leave as part of her time off because her absence was "not unpaid." During her absence, Repa collected $300 a week in disability-insurance payments from a Teamsters Union policy.

At the same time, however, the regulation created the potential for conflicts between employers and workers with disability insurance who request time off under FMLA. In Repa, Roadway argued the DOL's exclusion applied only to maternity or paternity leave, because the first sentence of the relevant paragraph refers to "disability leave for the birth of a child." The court rejected this argument, saying the rest of the paragraph discusses disability benefits generically.

Roadway also asserted it should be allowed to substitute paid leave because Repa's disability benefits were not part of an employer-sponsored plan. But the court declared Roadway's assertion irrelevant because the regulation doesn't distinguish disability benefits sponsored by a third-party (such as a union) from employer-sponsored disability benefits.


Michael T. Burr

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