Don’t Get Bit by the FMLA Litigation Bug

On Monday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled that a former city worker from Hot Springs, Arkansas is entitled to liquidated damages nearing $56,000 under the FMLA. You can read the full story here.

The employee went on FMLA leave to recover from surgery, but wasn’t able to return to work after his leave expired. The City of Hot Springs did provide additional time off without pay according to company policy, but instead of evaluating whether further time off should be provided as a part of the ADA, the employee was terminated, despite not being released to work by his doctor. Two months later, he applied for his old position but was not selected. He applied again four months later, but was never selected to interview.

After two years of court proceedings and appeals, it was determined that there was a causal link between his FMLA usage and the city’s decision to not rehire him. Internal emails to human resources from the hiring supervisor that stated hiring the former employee would be a “mistake” was presented as evidence, along with job applications of the other candidates with similar qualifications who were hired for the position.

What are the main take-aways that human resources can gather from this court ruling and avoid getting bit by the FMLA litigation bug?

  • Train your managers on FMLA guidelines – ensure that they know general eligibility guidelines, such as hours worked, leave reason and office location requirements. Additionally, make sure they know about intermittent leave. To ease the burden and help you sleep at night, you can even implement an employee Self Service Portal so employees have a standard way to send their leave request directly to HR.

  • Keep detailed documentation – initial leave requests, eligibility determinations, case history, emails, letters, medical certifications, etc. all need to be organized and easily accessed. Don’t let an email, letter or key piece of documentation get lost or misplaced.

  • More leave can be an accommodation – is your employee only able to return to work following a short duration after the FMLA expires? It’s in your best interest to accommodate as much as possible (within reason of course.)

  • Aside from FMLA, know any state leave laws that apply to the states where you have employees. Also, know the other leave types that can apply in your state. You can check out those here.

Don’t get blindsided by FMLA guidelines or bit by the FMLA litigation bug. Check out our free 30 day trial of LeaveXpert.