Officer Tyrone Patruno was injured off the job, and then fired when he ran out of his paid time off and his unpaid FMLA leave. The Barre Patrol Officers’ Union, MCOP Local 340, AFL-CIO, was represented by Attorney Leigh Panettiere of Sandulli Grace, P.C. The Arbitrator agreed with the Union’s argument and found that there was a practice of offering light duty to officers injured off the job, and further that there was no justification for the Town to refuse to Patruno’s request for extended unpaid leave to recover from his injury.
The Town appealed the arbitrator’s award, arguing that the arbitrator exceeded his powers by requiring the Town to give more than the three months of leave guaranteed by the Family and Medical Leave Act. The court rejected the Town’s argument (as did the arbitrator) on the basis that the FMLA is a floor of benefits and the parties are free to negotiate a greater benefit in their contract. Patruno was ordered reinstated to light duty pending a doctor’s decision that he is fit for full duty, with back pay to the date his doctor cleared him to work light duty.
Public employers cannot unilaterally impose FMLA policies, because they impact availability of paid and unpaid leave, as well as compensation and job security — all mandatory subjects of bargaining. Based upon this rule of collective bargaining law that was reaffirmed in the Barre case, Sandulli Grace advises its clients to watch for new FMLA policies, and contact their union representative if they believe an employer has imposed a policy without bargaining.