An employer who without intent to deceive makes a definite but erroneous representation to this employee that he is eligible for FMLA leave and has reason to believe that the employee will rely upon it, may be estopped to later claim that an employee wasn’t eligible for FMLA and therefore should not have been granted that leave. It does not matter for the purposes of this issue whether the employer intentionally mislead the employee initially about being eligible for FMLA or whether it was an innocent mistake on that employer’s part.
A number of cases recognize this doctrine of “equitable estoppel”. The Kosakow v New Rochelle Radiology Assocs. (2001) court held that the employer was estopped to claim that the employee was not eligible for FMLA when the employer’s unintentional misleading behavior caused the employee to justifiably rely on the FMLA leave. In Woodford v Community Action of Greene County, Inc. (2001) the court cited with the employee, where the employer initially approved notice of eligibility for FMLA leave, but later sought to challenge it.
This doctrine of equittable estoppel is an important tool for employees who initially have their
FMLA approved but are later told that they don’t qualify. As illustrated above, being initially approved for FMLA may make you qualify for FMLA leave or allow you to bring a claim for FMLA violation against your employer later, even if you didn’t otherwise qualify for FMLA under the law.