‘Willful’ violation can extend employees’ time to file FMLA suit

Typically, employees can file Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) lawsuits no later than two years after the alleged violation. But if a worker can prove that your organization "willfully" violated the FMLA, the employee has three years to file.

Some courts have said employees can invoke that three-year limit by showing very little proof of "willfulness." But the following case applies a much heavier burden. It says employees can earn that extra year to file only by proving that their employer showed "reckless disregard" for the FMLA.

Recent case: A 42-year-old hotel manager took medical leave after suffering an aneurysm, but it was never clarified whether the leave qualified under FMLA. Soon after his return, the hotel terminated and replaced him with a younger worker.

More than two years later, he filed an FMLA lawsuit.

The 1st Circuit appeals court tossed out the case due to the statute of limitations. He wasn't granted the extra year to file because the violation didn't rise to the beefed-up definition of "willful." (Hillstrom v. Best Western TLC Hotel, No. 03-1972, 1st Cir., 2003)

FMLA Compliance D

Bottom line: Avoid the statute-of-limitations issue entirely by making sure that both you and the employee know whether leave qualifies under the FMLA.