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Notification error doesn’t extend FMLA rights

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Your company no longer has to worry about giving extra leave to an employee if you fail to designate the employee's leave as counting toward her Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitlement.

On March 19, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the controversial Labor Department "stacking" rule, which said the clock doesn't start ticking on the worker's annual 12-week FMLA entitlement until she is notified in writing that her leave is being designated as "FMLA leave." In its first review of the FMLA, the high court called the now-defunct rule a "regulatory slight of hand which worked an end-run around important limitations" of the law.

The case involved Arkansas shoe factory worker Tracy Ragsdale who was granted seven months of medical leave by her employer, twice as much as required by FMLA. However, the company didn't notify Ragsdale that her leave was counting toward her FMLA leave entitlement.

Ragsdale was fired after exhausting her maximum leave under the company policy. She sued, arguing that Labor Department rules entitled her to an additional 12 weeks of FMLA leave because the company never designated her leave as FMLA leave. Lower courts said that rule was invalid and the Supreme Court agreed. (Ragsdale v. Wolverine World Wide Inc., No. 00-6029)

Advice: You don't have to grant employees more than 12 weeks of FMLA leave in one year, and you no longer need to offer more generous leave policies in fear of heavy-handed Labor Department regulations.

The high court, however, stopped short of saying that companies don't have to give workers notice about leave. To protect your company from misunderstandings and lawsuits, follow this strategy: Within two business days after learning of an employee's FMLA-related absence, send written notice to that person explaining that the leave falls under the FMLA and detailing your company's FMLA leave policy. By putting workers on official notice, you set the 12-week meter running.

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