Key to remember: If supervisors are not familiar with the basic workings of the FMLA, employees can sue your company based on those supervisors’ actions.
Applies to: All public employers and private employers with 50 or more employees.
Impact to customers: While this case doesn’t change the FMLA rules, it does point out that if supervisors are not trained on the FMLA, the risk of violations increases.
For about the first year and a half of Martin’s employment, the company excused him from working on days when he suffered from asthma complications. But about a week after Martin submitted paperwork seeking intermittent FMLA leave, he was suspended for 30 days because, according to employer, Martin had missed too much work.
Less than a year later, after Martin missed work for asthma complications, he was terminated.
He filed charges, and a few months later the company rehired him but put him in a new position that was more physically demanding.
Martin informed his supervisor that his new duties aggravated his scoliosis, and when he arrived to work one day with doctor-recommended physical restrictions, he was terminated again. As a result, Martin filed another charge.
As part of the claim, Martin indicated that the employer failed to properly train or otherwise inform its supervisors and employees concerning their duties and obligations under the laws, including the FMLA.
This case focused on the FMLA’s statutes of limitations, but the fact that an employee was mad about the way his supervisor treated him is somewhat telling.
Indeed, if your supervisors take FMLA missteps, your company could be facing its own unhappy Martin. Often, supervisors go through initial training on the FMLA, but that training is seldom refreshed. Much can be forgotten, inviting risk.
If you’re wondering, employees have two years to file FMLA claims for ordinary violations and three years for willful ones. A violation is willful if "the employer either knew or showed reckless disregard for the matter of whether its conduct was prohibited by the statute.”
The court found at least part of the employer’s actions willful, and the case was allowed to proceed. The employer must continue to spend time and resources defending its actions, and that of Martin’s supervisor.
Weatherly v. Ford Motor Company, 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 20-1771, April 19, 2021
This article was written by Darlene M. Clabault, SHRM-CP, PHR, CLMS, of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. The content of these news items, in whole or in part, MAY NOT be copied into any other uses without consulting the originator of the content.