Calio v. Camden County Board of Chosen Freeholders: Documentation Is Crucial in FMLA Claims

On August 6, 2021, the New Jersey District Court (Camden) denied both parties’ motions for summary judgment in Calio v. Camden County Board of Chosen Freeholders, a case in which the plaintiff/employee, Matthew Calio, alleges, inter alia, that his rights under the FMLA were violated by his employer.

Calio has been employed as a Corrections Officer by the Camden County Board of Chosen Freeholders (“County Board”) since 2001. In 2016, 2017, and twice in 2018, Calio requested approval to take intermittent FMLA leave to care for his mother, who suffers from dementia and requires assistance with day-to-day tasks. Calio’s 2016 request was denied because he had not worked enough hours to qualify for FMLA, but each of his subsequent three requests was granted. The dispute in the case arises from leave Calio took pursuant to the second 2018 FMLA leave request, under which he was approved to take intermittent leave between December 12, 2018 and June 12, 2019. Specifically, Calio was approved to take one leave of absence per month, for up to five days per absence. The approved leave was based on a medical certification Calio submitted, which explained that Calio’s mother had intermittent flare-ups that would incapacitate her approximately once every four weeks, and that each flare-up would last between eight hours and five days.

Calio took FMLA leave on December 15, 2018, January 6, 2019, January 14, 2019, and January 28, 2019. On February 1, 2019, Calio’s supervisor submitted a report recommending that Calio be disciplined for using FMLA leave in excess of what he had been approved to use, citing his January 6 and 28 absences, both of which were taken within 30 days of his preceding FMLA absence. The parties disputed whether Calio was asked to seek new documentation from his mother’s doctor to make adjustments to his approved FMLA leave before the report recommending discipline was submitted; however, both parties agreed that Calio did not, at any time, seek a change to his FMLA-approved leave. Calio was provided with notices of disciplinary action on February 19, 2019, advising him that he would be suspended as a result of exceeding the frequency of his allotted FMLA leave. Calio filed his complaint with the court on March 12, 2019. On March 26, 2019, a letter was issued to Calio informing him the two absences would be converted to sick days, and stating that he had been asked to recertify if his FMLA needs had changed.

In denying both parties’ motions for summary judgment, the court began by noting that critical to determining whether Calio’s rights had been violated was the issue of whether the County Board had asked Calio to recertify the frequency of his FMLA leave (and if so, whether he was provided with the required minimum of 15 calendar days to do so) before disciplining him. The court explained that if the Board had properly asked Calio to recertify and he failed to do so in the provided time, then the absences at issue would not be considered FMLA-approved absences and the protections afforded by the FMLA would not apply. On the other hand, if the County Board had not properly asked him to recertify, then Calio’s absences would be protected under the FMLA and the County Board would not be permitted to discipline him for taking the protected absences. The court noted that the record appeared to support the County Board’s position that Calio was asked to recertify as to the frequency of leave needed, but ultimately determined that finding so would be a credibility issue that was inappropriate for the court to resolve on summary judgment.

The most important takeaway for employers from the Court’s decision in Calio is that maintaining proper documentation is critical to defending against an employee claim of FMLA violation. Employers should evaluate internal policies to ensure that they are maintaining proper documentation of the entire FMLA process, including the recertification process. If you have any questions regarding this blog, please feel free to contact an attorney in the Gibbons Employment & Labor Law Department.

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