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Remind employees to closely read the forms and policies they sign

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in FMLA Guidelines,HR Management,Human Resources

Make sure to clearly inform employees who take medical or disability leave at the outset about the length and terms of their leave and the consequences of failing to return to their job. Explain that it's important to read everything on their leave forms and policies before they sign; never say they can skip a certain section because it probably doesn't apply.

As the following case shows, courts will side with employees who are victims of an employer's misrepresen?tation, even if the employer can argue that its "deception" was well meaning.

Recent case: When an employee signed forms for leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the company's HR manager told him he didn't need to bother reading a specific part of the form because it didn't apply to him. That part said the employee would be terminated if he didn't immediately return to work after the FMLA leave expired.

The HR manager and several supervisors told him to focus on getting well and not to worry about his job. But when his absence from work exceeded FMLA leave time, the organization fired him.

He sued under the FMLA, claiming the firm intentionally misrepresented the terms of his leave and job status. A jury sided with him, awarding him $555,000 in damages, and an appeals court backed up the ruling.

It didn't matter, the court said, that the organization claimed it was simply concerned about the employee's well being when it lied to him. The mere fact that it knew its statements to him were false was enough to show an intent to deceive. The whole issue could have been avoided if the HR director simply explained what the employee was signing and required him to read the whole thing. (Betterman v. Fleming Companies Inc., 677 N.W.2d 673, Wis.Ct. App., 2004)

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