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Refilling Prescription is not “Treatment” Entitling Employee to FMLA Leave

A machine operator in Indiana was not entitled to job protection under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) for an otherwise unexcused absence from work to obtain a prescription refill from his doctor, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit recently decided.

In Jones v. C&D Technologies., Inc., the Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the employer, C&D Technologies, Inc. (“C&D”), on the FMLA interference claim of Robert Jones (“Jones”), who required periodic medical treatment for leg and back pain and anxiety.  On the morning at issue, Jones was absent from work to obtain a prescription refill from his doctor and to inquire about the transfer of his medical files. 

C&D subsequently determined that Jones had not received any “treatment” during his absence and, therefore, that the absence was not protected by the FMLA.  Jones’s unauthorized absence resulted in the termination of his employment for cumulative violations of C&D’s no-fault attendance system.  Jones sued C&D,  alleging that his absence was excused by the FMLA. As most employers are aware, the FMLA provides eligible employees with as many as twelve weeks of unpaid leave during any twelve-month period.  Employers are prohibited from interfering with an employee’s use or attempted use of FMLA leave. 

An employee is entitled to take FMLA leave if he suffers from, among other things, “a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the functions of the employee’s job.”  A “serious health condition” is an illness, injury, impairment or physical or mental condition that involves “continuing treatment by a health care provider.” C&D conceded that Jones’s leg and back pain and anxiety issues qualified as a serious health condition involving continuing treatment by a health care provider. 

But C&D disputed that Jones was “unable to perform the functions of [his] job” on the morning in question.  Federal regulations define an employee unable to perform his duties as one “who must be absent from work to receive medical treatment for a serious health condition.”  In other words, an employee who receives treatment for a serious health condition is automatically considered to be unable to perform the functions of his job. 

Alternatively, an absence for unnecessary treatment or no treatment at all means that the employee is not sufficiently incapacitated so as to render him unable to perform his duties. C&D maintained that Jones had not received any treatment when he had his prescription refilled, and the Seventh Circuit agreed.  The court acknowledged that the prescription refill may show that Jones had a serious health condition for FMLA purposes because it potentially is evidence of his need for continuing treatment, but picking up the refill alone was not treatment that prevented Jones from performing his job duties and required him to be absent from work.

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