Employee Notified Of Imminent Termination Prior To FMLA Leave Did Not Have Right To Reinstatement

CATEGORY: Nonprofit News, Private Education Matters
CLIENT TYPE: Nonprofit, Private Education
DATE: Jun 22, 2023

On November 3, 2020, Jeff Lyde was elected Sheriff of Clay County, Texas. Following his election, Lyde made personnel decisions for his upcoming administration, including replacing many incumbent supervisors within the Clay County Sheriff’s Office. On November 16, 2020, Lyde sent employees individual emails letting them know they would be terminated in two weeks’ time, on November 30, 2020, when Lyde assumed office.

Linda Byrd was one of these employees. Byrd denied ever seeing the email on November 16, 2020. On the same day, Byrd reached out to the County about the possibility of receiving leave pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Byrd received the paperwork from the County on November 18 and completed her leave application on November 25, 2020. A County employee, unaware of the plans to terminate Byrd, approved the leave. Byrd’s leave concluded in January 2021 and the County declined to reinstate her.

Byrd sued Clay County under the FMLA for interfering with, restraining, or denying the exercise of her FMLA rights. Subject to certain limitations, one right under the FMLA is the right to reinstatement after return from leave. Byrd argued that the County should have offered her employment at the conclusion of her leave in January 2021. The trial court disagreed and granted summary judgment in favor of the County.

The Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court and reasoned that employees do not have a right of employment that they would not have been entitled to had the employee not taken leave. The Court of Appeals said that denying reinstatement to an employee who had already been terminated had she not taken the leave does not violate the FMLA. The Court of Appeals expressed concern that if they ruled differently, employees would immunize themselves from legitimate termination by taking FMLA leave.

The Court of Appeals said that Byrd was not able to dispute that her termination was imminent, and therefore nothing could change the outcome of the case. Byrd did not need to know that her job was ending when she applied for the leave, it mattered only that it was in fact ending.

Byrd v. Clay County, Texas (5th Cir. 2023) __F.4th__ [2023 WL 3122462].

Note: Terminating an employee while they are on protected leave, such as FMLA or CFRA leave, can be risky. Nonetheless, this case confirms that the FMLA does not protect employees on leave from termination unrelated to their leave.

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