Do your supervisors know their FMLA duties?

FMLA leaveHR professionals consistently rate FMLA administration as one of their most difficult tasks. But it’s not just a problem for HR. Mistakes by front-line managers—usually simple, unforced errors—can also lead to costly FMLA liability.

In one recent case, the Staples chain had to pay $275,000 in damages and penalties to an employee who was told by his boss that he couldn’t take FMLA to care for his terminally ill wife. The supervisor required him to use paid leave instead. When the employee was fired after falling behind on his work, he sued for FMLA interference and won.

Management training is key. Don’t let such a basic manager mistake drag you into court. Every supervisor is the potential first contact for an FMLA leave request. That makes every untrained boss a potential risk for costly litigation, bad press and poor workplace morale.

Schedule regular FMLA training for managers and supervisors. The FMLA should be covered as part of initial management training, with a refresher every year or so. (See for a free training handout.)

Have a central point of contact. HR pros often train managers to refer all FMLA requests to HR. But this is no substitute for training supervisors. In fact, it only works if managers know how to recognize legitimate requests for FMLA leave.


Develop an FMLA notice policy. Employers have a great deal of flexibility to customize their policies. Your policy should spell out how much notice employees need to provide, who their point of contacts are, the company’s policy on substituting paid leave, etc. Update the policy annually to ensure it complies with recent court decisions. Work with your attorney on the policy update.

You can learn about FMLA notification rules at