Be sure supervisors understand they cannot interfere with employees’—and that any effort that appears intended to block will probably cause legal headaches.
That’s because willfulviolations are subject to an extended filing period, giving the employee up to three years to file suit.
That can catch employers off guard, especially since there is no advance warning for FMLA claims. Reason: Filing a complaint with the Department of Labor isn’t a pre-requisite to a federal lawsuit.
Recent case: Robert worked as a security guard at the famed Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County. Then his wife became ill and he requested FMLA leave to help care for her. He provided certification for the leave that his wife’s doctor had prepared.
Still, he claims, his supervisor began questioning him about taking leave. About two weeks after he returned to work, his supervisor told Robert that he suspected Robert had committed FMLA leave fraud.
He then demanded to know if Robert was really married to the woman who had been ill. Robert said he was and showed his supervisor pictures from his cell phone depicting his wedding. That wasn’t good enough. The supervisor said Robert had to produce a copy of his marriage certificate. He did, but shortly afterward, he was fired anyway.
More than two years later, Robert sued, alleging interference with his FMLA rights.
The arts center argued he had waited too long. But the court said Robert’s complaint was within the three-year period for a willful FMLA violation. The court said the fraud allegations and demand for marriage proof might be evidence that the employer willfully interfered with his FMLA rights. (Kalestian v. Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County, No. 2:16-cv-05928, CD CA, 2016)