Human Resources News & Insights

One small mistake, big FMLA consequences

When it comes to the Family and Medical Leave Act, little things mean a lot. Especially little mistakes like miscalculating an employee’s remaining FMLA leave entitlement.

Check out this case:

Legal secretary Vanessa McFadden requested leave after her husband was diagnosed with cancer.

Unfortunately, her employer told her she had less FMLA time coming than she actually did.

As a result, McFadden took less FMLA leave than she was entitled to — and had to pay for someone to take care of her husband.

‘Never denied her leave’

Later, when she discovered the miscalculation, McFadden filed suit against her employer, claiming it had interfered with her FMLA rights.

The company admitted it had made a mistake in determining her leave time.

But it also claimed it wasn’t at fault – the firm never denied leave to McFadden when she requested it, so it couldn’t be liable for violating FMLA.

Wrong, said the court. The company had interfered with McFadden’s rights simply by misinforming her about the amount of leave she had left. Because of that misinformation, she lost money providing alternative care for her ailing husband.

The takeaway: You have to be very precise in communicating entitlements to eligible employees.

Any misinformation, even that caused by an innocent mistake, can be enough to support a claim against your company.

Cite: McFadden v. Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll. For a look at the full court decision, go here.

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  1. This is why it is critical that employers understand THE LAW, not the policy in their “policy and procedures” and “human resources” manuals, and have an experienced HR/Benefits person. I had the same exact thing happen to me when I had to go on Maternity Leave earlier than expected because I went into labor TWICE, and I was only 20 weeks along, so I was put on total bed rest. When I contacted the “benefits liaison,” her timeframe and mine were WEEKS apart, AND SHE WAS RUDE when I told her that she was calculating my weeks wrong. I was already stressed because I was in fear for my child’s life, then I had to deal with this DING DONG. I went to the HR Director, who contacted one of the many attorneys that my employers have on “retainer.” And, I WAS RIGHT!!!!

  2. Does anyone know if an employee can be made to exhaust their FMLA leave?

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