Most of you know that the Family and Medical Leave Act only applies to employers with 50 or more employees. And many of you — especially those of you with multiple offices — also know that that this definition extends to all locations within 75 miles. In other words, if you have 30 employees at the main office and another 25 at two other locations, each within 75 miles, then you're over the statutory 50, and the FMLA applies to you.
But do you know what "within 75 miles" means? It might not be what you think.
Kelly Hackworth worked in Progressive Insurance's Norman (Okla.) office as an injury operations manager. She asked for and received FMLA leave to care for her mother. At the end of her leave, Progressive required her to choose between a demotion and a severance package. She sued, claiming that Progressive had failed to return her to her original job after her FMLA leave.
Progressive argued that she was never eligible for FMLA leave in the first place because it didn't employ 50 people within 75 miles of the Norman office. In its Norman and Oklahoma City offices (31 miles away), Progressive employed 47 people. Hackworth argued that its Lawton office was 67 miles away from Norman, and the three additional employees at that office brought the total to the magic number 50.
Not so fast, said the federal district court. Turns out Lawton is 67 linear miles away from Norman — that is, "as the crow flies." But it is 75.6 surface miles away from Norman — that is, the distance your odometer would click off if you drove between the two offices. And while Congress neglected to define what it meant by the phrase "within 75 miles" when it drafted the FMLA, the Department of Labor's regulations defined it as 75 surface miles. The court ruled, and the Tenth Circuit agreed, that the DOL's regulations deserved deference. So Hackworth doesn't get protection under the FMLA because the Lawton office was about a thousand yards too far away.