"HOURS OF SERVICE" UNDER THE FMLA
To be eligible for leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), an employee must have been employed by the employer for the preceding 12 months, and the employee must have put in at least 1,250 "hours of service" during that time. Neither the FMLA nor the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) defines "hours of service."
When a hospital determined that a nurse it employed was about seven hours short of the 1,250 hours threshold, and therefore denied the nurse FMLA leave in connection with her surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome, the circumstances required a federal appellate court to construe the proper meaning of "hours of service."
Both sides agreed that, in terms of actual hours spent on the job, the nurse came up just short of the FMLA threshold. But the facts were not that cut and dried. Under a "Weekender" compensation program devised by the hospital to provide an incentive for nurses to work undesirable weekend shifts, for every two-week period during which the nurse worked 48 weekend hours, she was paid as if she had worked 68 hours instead. If the hospital had calculated the nurse's hours in her first year using the "bonus hours" in addition to the hours the nurse was at work, she would have been eligible for FMLA leave.
The court upheld the hospital's decision and declined to find it liable under the FMLA. While the legislation itself provided little guidance for the court, an FMLA regulation on the subject of the requirement of 1,250 hours does state that "[a]ny accurate accounting of actual hours worked under FLSA's principles may be used." Another regulation states that "all hours are hours worked which the employee is required to give his employer." In this case, the court reasoned that the bonus hours for which the nurse received extra compensation could not count as "hours of service" because she was not required to "give" them to her employer, but rather could spend that time for her own purposes.
The nurse argued to no avail that her case should have had the same outcome as another case decided by the same court, in which the court held that an employee's "hours of service" under the FMLA did include some hours not actually worked. In that case, however, the employee requested FMLA leave after successfully suing for wrongful termination and obtaining a remedy that included full service credit and back pay for the hours she would have worked but for the termination. Thus, the employee could use these hours that would have been worked in calculating FMLA eligibility.