Failure to comply with employment law can be a costly mistake. Although compliance typically falls to the HR department, it is imperative that managers be trained on employment law topics, especially the Family Medical Leave Act.
Consider the case of Stewart v. Wells Fargo Bank, case no.: 5:15-cv-00988-MHH. In 2012 Wells Fargo hired Deborah Stewart. In her role as a sales consultant, she was responsible for meeting a sales quota. Wells Fargo had several forms of documentation of her poor performance including a formal mid-year performance review which stated that she was “off track” in every measured category. The following day, Deborah filed a request for medical leave. Her requested was granted. When she returned to work her performance did not improve and her supervisor sent an email to Human Resources which stated, “I am writing to express my continued concern for Debby Stewart’s performance level in her role as a TMSC. I believe we need to move to termination as soon as possible for several reasons.” Her supervisor listed several reasons that were well documented but at the end of the email he wrote: “Debby submitted a request for medical leave.” This statement gave the former employee a case that her termination was in violation of the Family Medical Leave Act. In addition to the email, in the court disposition, the manager stated that he was “not really familiar with FMLA leave” because he was “on the front line.”
Because managers are “on the front line,” and usually the first to hear of an FMLA request, it is all the more reason they should be “familiar” with FMLA. The administration of FMLA requests and returns to work should still remain in the HR department, however, employers can minimize their risks by organizing training with their managers to ensure that they understand the basics of FMLA and avoid costly mistakes.
Managers should first be aware of whether or not their company is subject to FMLA requirements and what to do if an employee comes to them with questions or a request for time off under FMLA. They should understand the organization’s written policies in regards to FMLA. Training should remind managers that any comments about an employee’s leave are prohibited and direct any questions that they are unsure about to Human Resources. Managers should also be trained to pay attention to similarly situated employees. If an employee who has returned from FMLA is terminated for poor performance and other active employees are under-performing in the same areas, the company could be open to a retaliation lawsuit.
For more FMLA information, please contact your CPI-HR representative at 877.542.7833 or you can download the Employer’s Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act from the Department of Labor website: https://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/employerguide.pdf