Firing employee for using family leave rights may be retaliation
Eric Hazard worked for 17 years for Raley’s as a pharmacy manager. Eric’s son, Andrew, is 32 years old and disabled with hydrocephalus, a buildup of water on the brain, and scoliosis that has left him permanently paralyzed. Due to his son’s health, Eric requested leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) on two separate occasions. He also requested intermittent leave in October 2015 and November 2016. Both requests were granted by the employer.
Eric was fired in March 2017 after supervisors accused him of violating Raley’s policies on filling family prescriptions and pharmacy entry after normal business hours. Eric argued that Raley’s had an unwritten policy that allowed its pharmacists to open a closed pharmacy and fill family members’ prescriptions in emergencies as long they told supervisors and no money changed hands.
Eric sued the employer claiming retaliation in violation of FMLA/CFRA. He claimed that the real reason for his termination was that his supervisors were “hostile” to his requests to take time off. His multiple requests to take days off to drive his son to doctors’ visits were rejected. The pharmacy operations director suggested that Eric used his son’s disability an excuse to take days off of work. This same director told Eric he “should not hide behind your son’s medical condition to not do your job.”
A series of emails prior to Eric’s termination between the director and a pharmacy supervisor appeared to indicate their increasing frustration with Eric’s use of family leave time and their intended search for a replacement.
The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) protects employees’ rights to take a leave of absence for the following reasons:
- For the employee’s own serious health condition
- For the serious health condition of the employee’s child, parent or spouse
- Birth of a child for purposes of bonding
- Placement of a child in the employee’s family for adoption or foster care
California employers are subject to CFRA if they employ 50 or more part-time or full-time employees. Covered employers also include the State of California, its political and civil subdivisions, and cities and counties, regardless of the number of employees.
To be eligible for CFRA leave, an employee must be a full-time or part-time employee with more than 12 months of service with the employer, and have worked at least 1,250 hours in the 12-month period before the date the leave begins. Qualified employees may be entitled to a total of up to 12 workweeks in a 12 month period, which does not need to be taken continuously.
Employees must give advance notice to take a CFRA leave. While a verbal notice is sufficient, providing a written notice is advisable. The notice must state the reason for the leave and its anticipated duration. An employer may require 30 days advance notice if the need for the leave is foreseeable. If the leave is an emergency, notice must be given as soon as possible. The employer must immediately respond to a leave request and no later than ten calendar days after receiving the request.
After granting a CFRA leave, the employer must reinstate the employee to the same or comparable position and provide such a guarantee if requested by the employee. The employer may deny reinstatement of an employee if, for example, the position no longer exists. Finally, the employer must continue health care coverage during their CFRA leave up to a maximum of 12 work weeks in a 12-month period.
Violations of CFRA may result in significant damages for the fired employee. In Eric Hazard’s case, after trial, the jury found in his favor and awarded him $1,475,000 in damages.
The Law Offices of C. Joe Sayas, Jr. welcomes inquiries about this topic. All inquiries are confidential and at no-cost. You can contact the office at (818) 291-0088 or visit www.joesayaslaw.com. [C. Joe Sayas, Jr., Esq. is an experienced trial attorney who has successfully recovered wages and other monetary damages for thousands of employees and consumers. He was named Top Labor & Employment Attorney in California by the Daily Journal, consistently selected as Super Lawyer by the Los Angeles Magazine, and is a Presidential Awardee for Outstanding Filipino Overseas in 2018.]