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If you violate FMLA, prepare to pay employee’s attorneys’ fees, too

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in FMLA Guidelines,HR Management,Human Resources

Here’s another reason to train everyone on the intricacies of the FMLA: Employees who win even a small amount of damages in FMLA interference cases automatically get their attorneys’ fees paid by their employer. And that can add up to
big bucks.

Recent case: Richard Franzen worked as a mechanical engineer for Ellis Corp. He was seriously injured in an automobile accident. Since he couldn’t work, he asked for FMLA leave. The company sent him a packet containing certification forms and explained that it needed Franzen to provide a doctor’s note and the completed forms within 15 days.

The company claimed it never got the information and fired Franzen for unauthorized absences. He sued, alleging his doctor’s office had faxed a note to the HR office several times even though the company said it never got a fax.

Apparently a jury believed Franzen. It decided the company had interfered with his FMLA rights. But the judge set the damages at zero because Franzen had testified he couldn’t have returned to work at all. Franzen still wanted attorneys’ fees and appealed when he didn’t get them.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals said that if Franzen had received any damages—even one dollar—the employer would have had to pay his attorneys’ fees. But since the judge said he had no lost wages or suffered other damages, he didn’t get attorneys’ fees. (Franzen v. Ellis Corporation, No. 07-2009, 7th Cir., 2008)

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