Unless you train supervisors and managers to immediately forward all requests to the HR office, you may find your organization on the losing end of a lawsuit for interfering with an employee’s right to take medical leave. That’s because U.S. Labor Department regulations say that discouraging employees from taking is tantamount to interfering with their right to take such leave.
It doesn’t matter if the employee’s FMLA leave request is eventually approved or if the supervisor allows the employee to take the time off pending final FMLA-leave approval. It also doesn’t matter if the supervisor’s intentions were innocent. What matters is the processing delay.
Advice: To avoid an interference lawsuit:
- Train every supervisor and manager on the FMLA.
- Insist that all requests for time off that may possibly be covered by the FMLA be brought to HR’s attention promptly. Remind everyone that the request can be oral and doesn’t need to use any particular words, such as “FMLA leave.”
- Track every request and its final decision.
Recent case: Tabitha Mueller, who worked for JPMorgan Chase as a relationship banker, had a child with diabetes who frequently required medical care. Mueller’s supervisor hadn’t been trained in the FMLA and often made comments about the time Mueller took off to care for her son.
When Mueller asked about FMLA leave, her boss delayed requesting the paperwork from HR for almost two months. He did, however, allow her to take the time. When HR approved , it was applied retroactively. After Mueller was fired for an unrelated reason, she sued.
The court ordered an “interference-with-the-right-to-FMLA” trial—based on the two-month delay between Mueller’s initial request and HR’s approval. The court wrote that “even where an employee’s FMLA leave is eventually approved, an employer’s delay … constitutes a violation.” (Mueller v. JPMorgan Chase Co., No. 1:05-CV-560, ND OH, 2007)
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