Undocumented Workers Are Protected by Wisconsin's FMLA

14 January 2015 Wisconsin Appellate Law Blog

Wisconsin’s court of appeals, in a published opinion written by Judge Reilly, recently decided that undocumented workers are protected by Wisconsin’s Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Burlington Graphic Systems v. DWD, 14AP762. The decision has no practical effect on employers who comply with Wisconsin’s FMLA (and federal immigration law), but the lesson from the decision is that, if an undocumented worker alleges a violation of Wisconsin’s FMLA, federal immigration law is not a defense to employer liability. 

The case arose when Burlington Graphic Systems terminated Karen Alvarez’s employment after she took medical leave. Alvarez missed work in November 2011 due to a surgical procedure.  She had informed her supervisor about the upcoming procedure, but one day after Alvarez returned to work, she was fired by Burlington because she missed too many days. In calculating her absences, Burlington counted at least one of the days when Alvarez was on medical leave.

Alvarez filed an FMLA complaint, and Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development (DWD) found probable cause that an FMLA violation had occurred. Burlington rehired Alvarez the next March, but quickly fired her again when she was not able to demonstrate that she could legally work in the United States. (The court of appeals was troubled by, but reluctantly accepted, the parties’ stipulation that Alvarez was unaware until March 2012 that she could not legally work in the United States.)

Alvarez’s complaint proceeded to a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). The ALJ ruled in favor of Alvarez and the DWD. The ALJ ordered that Burlington: (1) cease and desist from violating Wisconsin’s FMLA; (2) implement policies to teach its employees about Wisconsin’s FMLA; and (3) pay Alvarez’s attorney fees. Alvarez was not awarded back pay because she was not authorized to work during the period for which she sought back pay. The circuit court affirmed the ALJ, modifying the award only for the calculation of attorneys’ fees.

The court of appeals affirmed. It rejected Burlington’s arguments that applying Wisconsin’s FMLA to undocumented workers would confer upon them the benefit of employment that they were not entitled to. Even though Alvarez could not collect back pay for a period when she could not legally work, her employer was liable for violating Wisconsin’s FMLA. The fact that undocumented workers have no right to continued employment (just as at-will employees have no right to continued employment) does not change employers’ obligations under the Wisconsin FMLA. Even undocumented workers have the right to take leave for serious medical conditions.

The court was concerned that a contrary decision would incentivize employers to hire undocumented workers whose rights would not be protected.

This blog is made available by Foley & Lardner LLP (“Foley” or “the Firm”) for informational purposes only. It is not meant to convey the Firm’s legal position on behalf of any client, nor is it intended to convey specific legal advice. Any opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Foley & Lardner LLP, its partners, or its clients. Accordingly, do not act upon this information without seeking counsel from a licensed attorney. This blog is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. Communicating with Foley through this website by email, blog post, or otherwise, does not create an attorney-client relationship for any legal matter. Therefore, any communication or material you transmit to Foley through this blog, whether by email, blog post or any other manner, will not be treated as confidential or proprietary. The information on this blog is published “AS IS” and is not guaranteed to be complete, accurate, and or up-to-date. Foley makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, as to the operation or content of the site. Foley expressly disclaims all other guarantees, warranties, conditions and representations of any kind, either express or implied, whether arising under any statute, law, commercial use or otherwise, including implied warranties of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Foley or any of its partners, officers, employees, agents or affiliates be liable, directly or indirectly, under any theory of law (contract, tort, negligence or otherwise), to you or anyone else, for any claims, losses or damages, direct, indirect special, incidental, punitive or consequential, resulting from or occasioned by the creation, use of or reliance on this site (including information and other content) or any third party websites or the information, resources or material accessed through any such websites. In some jurisdictions, the contents of this blog may be considered Attorney Advertising. If applicable, please note that prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Photographs are for dramatization purposes only and may include models. Likenesses do not necessarily imply current client, partnership or employee status.

Related Services

Insights

RCE PTA Carve-Out Resumes After Interference
18 September 2019
PharmaPatents
The Ninth Circuit Expected to Rule that Doctors Can Be Wrong in the Winter v. Gardens False Claims Act Case
18 September 2019
Legal News: Government Enforcement Defense & Investigations
Upcoming Webinar: Maximizing Solar Tax Credits - Navigating the Start of Construction Rules (Part 1)
17 September 2019
Renewable Energy Outlook
When Birds Finally Find a Nest
17 September 2019
Dashboard Insights
Lacktman, Ferrante Cited in mHealth Intelligence About Ryan Haight Act
19 September 2019
mHealth Intelligence
Tinnen Discusses How Viewpoint Diversity Helps Businesses Thrive
18 September 2019
InsideTrack
Vernaglia Comments on AHA v Azar Decision
18 September 2019
MedPage Today
Lach Comments on Launch of New Group
16 September 2019
BizTimes Milwaukee
MedTech Impact Expo & Conference
13-15 December 2019
Las Vegas, NV
Review of 2020 Medicare Changes for Telehealth
11 December 2019
Member Call
BRG Healthcare Leadership Conference
06 December 2019
Washington, D.C.
CTeL Telehealth Fall Summit 2019
04-06 December 2019
Washington, D.C.