Burr Alert: 2014's Hottest Employment Rulings Affecting Southeastern Employers

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2014 saw a wide range of employment issues presented before the 11th Circuit. This article seeks to highlight some of the more frequently cited 11th Circuit opinions from last year. The updates below, although not earth shattering to employment lawyers, serve as a reminder of the continued need for careful attention to detail in regards to HR issues.

Waiver of FMLA Rights?

On April 8, 2014 the 11th Circuit decided Paylor v. Hartford Fire Ins. Co., 748 F.3d 1117 (2014) holding that a severance agreement waiving an employee's claims under the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), barred the employee's right to bring suit for leave which was outstanding at the time she executed the waiver. Following a decline in the employee's performance, the employee was given an ultimatum to either accept a severance agreement featuring an FMLA waiver provision or agree to a performance improvement plan ("PIP"). The employee chose the severance package and subsequently brought suit against the employer claiming the ultimatum posed constituted FMLA retaliation. Plaintiff alleged that the waiver did not bar her claim because pursuant to 29 C.F.R. § 825.220(d) an employee cannot waive "prospective" FMLA rights. At the time that she signed the waiver, her FMLA leave request was outstanding. Consequently, she alleged that the waiver could not bar her outstanding request because it would constitute a prospective application. The Court defined "prospective rights" to mean those rights allowing an employee to invoke FMLA protections at some unspecified time in the future; a waiver of something that has not yet occurred (i.e. an employer cannot offer new employees a one-time cash payment in exchange for a waiver of any future FMLA claims). Thereafter, because the true act complained of was the ultimatum presented, and such ultimatum was posed the day before execution of the waiver, plaintiff's FMLA claim was barred. Additionally, the Court upheld the waiver because it was signed knowingly and voluntarily.

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