Esmelyn Peña Gonzalez, a hardworking dishwasher employed for almost 10 years at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Hotel and Casino in Puerto Rico, was terminated from his job after a serious health condition landed him in the hospital.
After being discharged from the hospital, Esmelyn found himself without a job or home, and unable to apply for unemployment benefits because his employer wrongfully filed his termination cause as “no-show.” He moved in with his sister, Yahira Peña Gonzalez, who reached out to the Wage and Hour Division’s Caribbean District Office seeking help for her brother.
Like many workers, Esmelyn was entitled to take Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave to deal with serious health conditions, so his termination was against the law. When employees are eligible for FMLA leave, they can take time off work to receive medical treatment, keep their health insurance, and return to their jobs without fear of being terminated or facing other forms of retaliation.
Not only did Embassy Suites not inform Esmelyn of this requirement, but when he tried to return to work to further discuss the issue, the employer threatened to call the police if Esmelyn did not immediate leave the hotel property.
To resolve these FMLA violations, Embassy Suites by Hilton Hotel and Casino agreed to pay Esmelyn $16,981 in lost wages.
Thanks to the help of his sister Yahira, his loving advocate who rang the alarm on this injustice, we were able to step in and conduct a thorough investigation. No one should have to choose between their health and their job. That’s why we take our responsibility seriously to ensure workers like Esmelyn are allowed to exercise their rights under the FMLA.
Upon hearing the good news of the case’s resolution, both Esmelyn and Yahira thanked WHD investigators for their assistance with recovering back wages and correcting the record. With the money returned to him, he was able to purchase a car and support his family again.
If you or your family member is denied their FMLA rights, please call us toll-free at 1-866-487-9243. We answer calls confidentially and in more than 200 languages, regardless of a caller’s immigration status. Employers, an updated copy of the FMLA poster prepared by the Department (WH1420) is available for your information or for posting in the workplace.
Jose Vazquez is the district director of the Wage and Hour Division’s Caribbean District Office. Follow the division on LinkedIn and on Twitter at @WHD_DOL.