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Train managers on FMLA or risk double damages

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in FMLA Guidelines,HR Management,Human Resources

Make it a point to train supervisors on how to manage employees' leaves that could be covered under the FMLA. Otherwise, don't expect to plead ignorance if they make a mistake. A court could zap you with double damages under the FMLA's liquidated-damages rule.

For example, if a manager gives an employee less time to return a medical certification form than the FMLA requires, he may end up costing you thousands in extra damages.

Recent case: Ralph Cooper, who worked for Fulton County's maintenance department for 20 years, suffered from depression. During one absence, his supervisor gave him a medical certification form and told him the HR director said it was due back in six days.

When Cooper didn't return the form by the deadline, the county fired him. Cooper sued, and a jury sided with him because FMLA regulations say employers must give workers at least 15 days to return medical certification forms.

The jury awarded Cooper $248,828 in back pay and $58,000 in lost pension contributions. The judge then doubled the award. Reason: When employers deny employees a right under the FMLA by acting in bad faith, they must pay twice.

On appeal, the court upheld the award because the supervisor and the HR director had never read the FMLA regulations. Nor did either one contact an attorney or read the U.S. Labor Department's advisory opinions. Therefore, they acted in bad faith. (Cooper v. Fulton County, No. 05- 12318, 11th Cir., 2006)

Final tip: Be aware that, under the FMLA, managers and supervisors can also be held personally liable for bad-faith decisions. That means some of the jury award could come out of their own pockets.  

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