A new ruling is a good reminder that the process of granting FMLA leave is fraught with opportunities to make mistakes.
Here are the details of the case, laid out by Kevin Donovan from Wilson Elser:
Three key FMLA notice documents
Jacqueline Young requested FMLA leave from her employer, The Wackenhut Corporation.
Now, when staff members request FMLA leave, employers are required to supply three things:
- Eligibility notice. Employers must provide an eligibility notice to employees within five days of determining that leave be for a qualifying reason.
- Rights and responsibilities notice. When employers supply the eligibility notice, they also must provide this notice, which details the obligations and expectation of the employee while on leave and what happens if those expectations aren’t met.
- Designation notice. If an employer determines the employee can take FMLA leave for the reason suggested, firms must alert the employee the leave is approved and that it will be counted as FMLA leave.
Wackenhut officials approved Young’s FMLA leave request and gave her the full 12 weeks of leave.
One problem: All those federal notices listed above that firms are required by federal law to provide? They didn’t give Young any of them.
As a result, Young didn’t know that she’d need a doctor’s note to return to work. She also wasn’t formally given a return-to-work date.
That became an issue when Young didn’t come back to work after her leave expired. Wackenhut gave her two full weeks afterward to come back, but when she didn’t return, she was fired.
Young sued, claiming since she wasn’t provided the correct paperwork, she didn’t have a chance to plan and structure her leave accordingly — and it cost her her job.
The court agreed, saying the company’s failure to give her the notices violated her FMLA rights: “Had she been appropriately apprised of her leave time, Plaintiff could have planned and structured her leave time differently. Thus, Plaintiff did suffer prejudice.”
The takeaway for Donovan: Granting employees 12 weeks of FMLA isn’t enough:
“Employers should ensure that their personnel who have responsibility for complying with federal and state leave laws are familiar with all of the requirements of the law and document the provision of all required notices to employees.”
Not every company runs into issues with FMLA notice forms, though. Check out this recent case where documentation saved a company in court.
The case is Young v. The Wackenhut Corporation.