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HR lessons learned the hard way: Don’t blindly trust your FMLA software

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in FMLA Guidelines,HR Management,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

As FMLA administration grows more complex, more employers are using software to track it. Most of the time that works fine. But if you decide to terminate because the software told you an employee overstepped her leave or wasn’t eligible for FMLA leave, review the reasons for the leave and double-check your calculations.

As this new ruling shows, applying a human step to the high-tech process could save you an expensive lawsuit and a double rebuke from the court.

Recent case: Pamela Bowyer worked for Dish Network’s customer service department in two separate stints. In total, she’d worked more than 12 months, which would make her eligible for FMLA leave.

During her second tour of duty at the company, she called in sick because of heart trouble. Management checked her FMLA eligibility using its online database.

The system mistakenly said Bowyer hadn’t worked 12 months at the company and, therefore, wasn’t eligible for FMLA leave. She was terminated. (Remember, employees must work 12 months to be FMLA-eligible, but those 12 months don’t need to be consecutive—you must ignore breaks in service.)

Bowyer incurred more than $20,000 in hospital bills after her termination. She sued, alleging she was eligible for FMLA leave.

The court agreed, based on her total weeks of service. It also said she was entitled to continued insurance coverage.

The court ordered the company to pay Bowyer’s outstanding medical bills and her lost wages. Then it doubled her wage award based on what it called the employer’s bad-faith reliance on software to make an erroneous termination decision. (Bowyer v. Dish Network, No. 08-1496, WD PA, 2010)

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