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Caution government supervisors: You could be personally liable for FMLA violations

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in Discrimination and Harassment,FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Supervisors and managers who work for private employers have long been held personally liable for FMLA violations in which they participate. Now supervisors and managers who work for government agencies are also liable.

Recent case: Chester Plaxico worked for a sheriff’s department and was approved for intermittent FMLA leave to care for his son, who has chronic medical problems.

For a year, everything went fine. But then Plaxico was demoted. He claimed that, although his supervisor had told him he was a “valued employee,” he was being demoted because he had “personal issues.” The supervisor allegedly offered to reconsider when Plaxico “got his family situation resolved.”

Plaxico sued the supervisor directly.

The supervisor claimed that he couldn’t be held personally liable for FMLA violations. The court disagreed, reasoning that supervisors in private-sector companies have long been personally liable. It saw no reason to treat supervisors in the public sector any differently. (Plaxico v. County of Cook, No. 10-C-272, ND IL, 2010)

Final note: Because the FMLA is modeled in part on the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the U.S. Department of Labor administers it. The DOL has long defined “employer” to include supervisors and managers who make decisions on enforcement of both the FLSA and the FMLA. On the other hand, most other employment discrimination laws don’t allow individual liability.

If you work for a government agency, warn supervisors that they should never criticize employees for using FMLA leave.

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