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How FMLA Violations Can Leave HR Directors Liable

  • Categories: HR

You’ve known about the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)—an act that entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons.

What you might not know is that the FMLA provides for individual as well as corporate liability.

Keep reading for the inside scoop on everything you need to know how managers and directors could be held liable.

FMLA Violations and How HR Directors Can be Left Liable

Courts have ruled that managers and supervisors can be held individually liable for FMLA violations.

The FMLA applies to employers who employ fifty or more employees within a 75-mile radius.

Who Qualifies?

Basically, the FMLA states that an employer can be “any person who acts, directly or indirectly, in the interest of an employer to any of the employees of such employer.”

Employees, who as part of their job duties, who are acting in the interest of the employer  can be held liable for FMLA violations, even if they are individuals within a company.

But, how do you determine who qualifies as an employer under the law?

The courts ruled on multiple occasions that the definition of an employer for the FMLA closely tracks the definition of employer under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA). Therefore, they reasoned that the standards used to evaluate employers under the FLSA should be applied to FMLA cases as well.

In a nutshell, this means that courts can look at the “economic reality” of a situation. Then, they will determine an individual’s level of control over an employee. In turn, they will decide that individual’s liability under the FMLA.

For Example…

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recently used this line of thinking to determine the outcome of a case.

On March 17, 2016, the Court ruled that Shaynan Garrioch, the director of HR for the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), could be held individually liable for FMLA violations.

Allegedly, these violations were committed against Cathleen Graziadio, who is CIA’s payroll administrator.

The Court’s Decision

The Court based its rationale for the decision on the fact that the Human Resource Director had enough control over the employee’s job and enough input into the employee’s hiring to qualify as an “employer” under the statute.

They also relied on the fact that the HR Director exercised control over the employee’s schedule. The Court stated that Garrioch also controlled the conditions of employment, which made the Director an “employer.”

How This May Apply to You

While the decision of the Court was limited to the HR Director, the same rationale would apply to any executive, manager, or supervisor who exercises control over an employee’s wages, hours of work, and/or working conditions.

The decision supports existing case law and can be used as precedent by  by other courts throughout the U.S. This means that it’s important to prepare.

All covered employers should make sure to train their managers regarding the requirements of the FMLA including making them aware they could be held individually liable. Employers should also ensure appropriate policies, forms, and procedures are in place to be sure that the employee’s rights under the FMLA are protected.

Do you think  HR managers and  directors should be held individually liable for FMLA violations? Do you think this will help make for an increased recognition of the importance of compliance?

Dive deeper into HR insights.

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