An Arizona employer has learned just how painful it can be to get nailed for not following Family and Medical Leave Act regulations.
The case involves an employee named Peter Lyle, who was a truck driver for a bottled water company. He went out on company-approved FMLA leave.
During his leave, however, his employer, O Premium Waters, was acquired by another concern — D.S. Waters (d.b.a., “Sparkletts”).
Sparkletts ended up retaining 87% of O Premium’s drivers. But when Lyle asked to return to his job at the end of this FMLA leave, he was refused.
He complained to the Department of Labor, saying his FMLA rights had been violated. And a Wage-and-Hour Division investigation confirmed that allegation.
The DOL and Sparkletts eventually entered into a consent judgment in which the company agreed to reinstate Lyle to his old position with full seniority and pay him nearly $27,000 in back wages.
But that wasn’t the end of the damage for Sparkletts. When Lyle lost his job, he also lost his medical benefits. And as a result, he incurred more than $31,000 in medical bills — all of which Sparkletts was required to reimburse him for as well.
That’s a total of $58k, a pretty steep price for a dumb mistake.
Is an on-site FMLA audit in your future?
And speaking of following FMLA rules …
Attorney Jeff Nowak, writing on his FMLA Insights blog, warned this week that the DOL is making plans to do more on-site investigations of employee complaints.
The news came at a recent FMLA/ADA compliance conference hosted by the Disability Management Employer Coalition in a presentation by DOL Branch Chief for FMLA Diane Dawson.
Nowak said the DOL planned to “identify occasions when it would make sense to conduct an on-site visit during an FMLA investigation. Examples might include situations where an employer has racked up a number of recent FMLA violations or where a remedy might quickly be sought for an employee whose termination is imminent or has recently occurred.”
And how should employers prepare for this dreaded audit? Here’s a bare-bones version of Nowak’s suggestions:
- Conduct a thorough review of your FMLA policy
- Adhere to the employer posting requirements
- Make sure your FMLA forms are legally compliant
- Prepare legally compliant FMLA correspondence
- Conduct a comprehensive audit of your FMLA practices and procedures
- Clean up your recordkeeping, and
- Train your employees.