Case: Airline employees meet FMLA eligibility if they work or are paid 504 hours


Employers don't get to choose between worked or paid

Because of flight crew employee work hours restrictions under the FAA, they have alternative FMLA eligibility criteria. They must have worked or be paid for at least 504 hours during the previous 12-month period. One airline interpreted this to mean that it could choose between using hours worked or hours paid. The DOL got wind of this, disagreed, and filed a claim.

The airline calculated whether employees met the 504 hours criteria by looking only at hours paid, and did not include hours worked.

In court, the DOL argued that this interpretation was incorrect. The airline believed that employees must have both 504 hours worked and paid to meet the FMLA's eligibility criteria because an employee will always have more hours worked than hours paid. Because it looked at only the hours paid, some employees were determined to not be eligible for FMLA leave when they should have been.

In looking at the statute and the meaning of the word "or," the court pointed out that there was no indication that Congress intended to give employers the authority to choose between the eligibility criteria. The law did not allow the airline to exclude one of the eligibility criteria at its discretion; it is satisfied if either is true, without regard to which eligibility criteria the employer would prefer.

The airline also tried to argue that the FMLA statute and regulations are too vague and inconsistent to be enforceable. Airlines often use the term "duty hours" to categorize the hours an employee is on duty status, regardless of whether those hours are paid.

The court didn't buy this argument, either, pointing out that the FMLA does not define "duty hours."

Key to remember: The "hours of service" requirement for FMLA eligibility of airline employees is satisfied if either hours worked or hours paid reaches 504 hours, or both. Employers do not have discretion to unilaterally exclude hours worked or hours paid from the FMLA calculation; they must look at both.

DOL v. Mesa Airlines, Inc., District of Arizona, No. cv-20-2049, September 12, 2022.

This article was written by Darlene M. Clabault, SHRM-CP, PHR, CLMS, of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. The content of these news items, in whole or in part, MAY NOT be copied into any other uses without consulting the originator of the content.


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