Maria Escriba worked in a Foster Poultry Farms, Inc. (Foster Farms) processing plant in Turlock, California for 18 years. She was terminated in 2007 for failing to comply with the company’s “three day no-show, no-call rule” after the end of a previously approved period of leave, which she took to care for her ailing father in Guatemala. Escriba subsequently filed suit under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and its California equivalent. The parties disputed the characterization of Escriba’s request for a two-week period of leave. Escriba claims that her termination is an unlawful interference with her rights under the FMLA. Foster Farms responds that, although Escriba provided an FMLA-qualifying reason for taking leave, she explicitly declined to have her time off count as FMLA leave. The district court characterized the case as a classic “he said, she said” matter focused on what Escriba told her supervisors. Escriba’s claims therefore proceeded to a jury trial in 2011. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Foster Farms.
In reading the case you get the clear impression that poor communication was involved. To begin with, the employee’s primary language was Spanish. Whether she was confused or was mis-understood, this entire fight could have been easily avoided using an FMLA leave process. This was not a sophisticated worker and she had a legitimate right to use FMLA. My guess is that at the time she was looking for paid leave only because that was all she could afford. When she passed the agreed upon non-FMLA leave of absence period she failed to notify the company about her expected continued absence. Not surprisingly she was terminated under Foster Farms’ “three day no-show, no-call rule”.
- Make sure somebody can clearly communicate the legal obligations surrounding any leave request to the employee. Without proper training it is hard for a supervisor or manager to be that person. Language barriers can also get in the way.
- Make FMLA and other leaves a process and not an event. Taking a checklist approach is a must (which is why we have an FMLA Checklist on HR That Works).
- They could have been compassionate and not fired somebody already stressed about a relative’s health. The FMLA and your policies are only the ground floor of obligation to another human being. Instead of proactively assisting the employee and asking how they can be of help, they fire her prompting a lawsuit; the cost of which I am sure has already exceeded her annual income in expense. If the employer calls that “winning” I disagree with their definition of it.