Family Medical Leave Act Violations: What To look For

Stoltze & Stoltze PLC

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides employees with job-protected and unpaid leave for qualified medical and family reasons with a continuation of group health insurance coverage. FMLA enables workers to balance the demands of work and family without having to choose between keeping their job and caring for themselves or loved ones. An eligible employee may be able to take leave for events such as the birth or adoption of a child, serious illness of an employee or close family member, or an exigency arising out of a close family member’s military service.

Although employers have an obligation under the law comply with FMLA, mistakes are made resulting in the wrongful denial of FMLA leave. When an employee requesting FMLA is subjected to adverse employment action such as being fired or disciplined, the employer can be liable for retaliation.  Not all that surprisingly, FMLA issues can be traced back to managers who work more directly with employees and, in most cases, managers are the cause of employment law violations involving FMLA.

Common mistakes regarding FMLA leave at the management level sometimes result in problems for the employee, but also for the employer who may be subject to legal action when employees are treated unfairly. The following training tips designed for management to prevent FMLA violations speaks volumes on what can go wrong in the interactions between managers and employees with regard to FMLA – an interesting perspective for employees subject to denial or retaliation:

  • Managers should know the difference between FMLA and sick days.  The mention of a “bad back” may very well be from a weekend of raking, but could also be an indication of a more serious condition protected by FMLA. Managers should tune in to the possibility that an absence may be protected under FMLA so that they can proceed accordingly.
  • Disabuse managers of the notion that FMLA leave is only for long term leave. Managers often think there is some three day threshold for leave to qualify for FMLA protection, however, intermittent leave can qualify for protection also.
  • Managers should consistently enforce policies for reporting absences and submitting documentation. If an employee is terminated for excessive absences when all along they’ve been texting a supervisor about FMLA leave, there could be a violation of the employees’ rights under FMLA.
  • Once a manager is aware that an employee might need leave for a medical condition, they own it until the baton is handed off and they receive notice that HR or a leave administrator has taken ownership of the request. It is not enough to merely point an employee in the right direction without follow up.
  • Managers should keep any resentment over a leave request to themselves. Displaying disgruntlement or hostility through words or actions or sharing negative feelings about an employee via communications with other managers or HR is not appropriate and can be evidence of retaliation.
  • Confidentially is a must for managers regarding FMLA leave. The details of employees’ conditions and leaves shouldn’t be discussed in meetings with people who have no reason to know that information. That alone can create an FMLA violation.
  • Require managers to leave leave-takers alone unless absolutely necessary. There may be situations in which the employee on leave will want to check in or a co-worker needs to ask an important question, but those should be kept to a minimum and handled appropriately.
  • If managers are recommending termination and FMLA is involved, it cannot be because of the leave and they will need to provide solid documentation about separate issues.

There are many ways to prove that employers and their managers violated your rights under FMLA law. If you have been denied FMLA leave or subjected to an adverse employment action including wrongful termination after requesting FMLA leave, contact the Des Moines employment law offices of Stoltze & Stoltze PLC for help today at515.989.8529.