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Back to basics: Don’t forget the FMLA

Price tag: $63,486

Posted June 28, 2018

An employer that decided to ignore even the basic provisions under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) learned that the DOL can and does investigate such incidents, and that FMLA violations can be expensive.

The company ended up paying a total of $63,486 to a former employee after a U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (WHD) investigation found that the employer violated requirements of the FMLA and interfered with the employee’s ability to exercise his rights under that law.

The penalties included $31,743 for lost wages and increased medical expenses incurred by the employee due to the loss of health benefits upon termination of employment, and an additional $31,743 in liquidated damages.

WHD investigators found that the employer:

  • Knew of the employee’s serious health condition but failed to offer required FMLA protections,
  • Failed to inform the employee that he was eligible for FMLA leave,
  • Failed to designate his time away from work as FMLA-protected, and
  • Retaliated against the employee and wrongfully terminated his employment.

The report on the investigation appears to not delve too deep into the murky FMLA waters, but provided a reminder of the basics of the FMLA:

  • When an employee puts you on notice of the need for leave, your FMLA obligations are triggered. It appears the employee in question informed his employer of the reason for the need for leave, which would be seen as putting the employer on notice of the need for leave, and the employer chose to ignore such notice. Strike one.
  • Once put on notice, you should respond appropriately, including providing the employee with an eligibility/rights & responsibilities notice. If the reason for leave qualifies, you are to provide a designation notice to the employee. The employer in the investigation failed to provide the employee with such notices. Strike two.
  • Allow the employee to return to work after leave. Perhaps the employer in this case did not like the idea of this employee taking time off from work, so it simply terminated him. Strike three.

Oh, and the employee’s health care coverage continues during leave. Since the employee was terminated, so was his coverage. Part of the settlement involved increased medical expenses incurred by the employee due to the loss of health benefits upon termination of employment.

Generally, the company interfered with the employee’s FMLA rights and retaliated against him for exercising those rights – a double-header.

While the details of the investigation are not provided, the employer seems to have been absent during FMLA training or chose to ignore whatever training was received. The employee did not seek reinstatement with the employer.

This article was written by Darlene M. Clabault, SHRM-CP, PHR, CLMS, of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

FMLA for Supervisors TrainingJ. J. Keller's FMLA for Supervisors Training gives supervisors and managers critical Family and Medical Leave Act information.


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