Carefully following FMLA guidelines and through documentation protects company

by on January 23, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

FMLA Regulations and Corporate Layoffs

“I’m really sorry to give you bad news so soon after you returned, Barry,” said HR Director Mary Baxter. “But the corporate reorganization has been in the works for a while. Your job won’t exist after the first of the month.”

“I took time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act to have back surgery,” Barry said. “I thought I was guaranteed a job when the leave ends.”

“The company had already decided to eliminate your job before you took leave,” Mary said. “We could have laid you off right then,” she continued, “but we had a timetable to follow and giving you leave under FMLA guidelines seemed like the right thing to do.”

“I’m having a hard time believing you were so concerned about doing ‘the right thing,'” Barry shot back. “I could have been looking for a job while I was laid up.

Was he a target?

“As a matter of fact,” he continued, “I’m starting to wonder if I got targeted because I requested FMLA leave.”

“You know that’s not how we operate around here,” Mary said. “That would be both a violation of FMLA Regulations and, as far as I’m concerned, unethical to boot. The meeting to determine layoffs happened before you even requested leave,” the HR director went on. I have meeting minutes that can prove it to you.”

“Make sure you bring those minutes to court,” Barry hissed. “You’re going to need them.” Barry sued under FMLA guidelines, claiming his employer retaliated against him for taking leave for back surgery.

Did he win?

Yes, Barry won. A federal judge refused to dismiss his claim, and employers usually settle out of court to avoid an even larger jury award.

The judge said the meeting minutes produced by HR Director Mary did not clearly show that the company made the decision to terminate Barry before he requested leave under FMLA guidelines. So the employer faced even more costly litigation.

FMLA regulations provide that an employee on leave must be returned to his or her original or equivalent job, but does not mean employees are immune to layoffs. No violation of FMLA guidelines occurs when an employer has already decided to terminate the employee before he or she requests leave. Without a record of the meeting to determine when the layoff decision was made, the dispute came down to one person’s word against another’s.

Lesson learned

The moral here is that both HR and line managers must keep accurate records about all decisions and decision-making processes. You never know when you will be asked to produce those records in the company’s defense. Whether you have a designated, reliable meeting secretary or tape your meetings, make sure you save all minutes in an organized, accessible place for at least five years.

Cite: D’Ambrosia v. Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, No. 06-2182, M.D. Pa., 9/30/08. Fictionalized for dramatic effect.

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