Court Rules That Employees Involved In Alleged FMLA Violations Can Be Held Personally Liable

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A federal district judge in Illinois recently ruled that a former employee may proceed with his interference and retaliation claims under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) against his former employer’s Human Resources Director, Leave Benefits Administrator and Department Head, even though they did not directly supervise him. In Shockley v Stericycle, Inc, an employee requested FMLA leave to care of his sick father.  The employee, thereafter, alleged a parade of horribles in terms of his employer’s handling of this request.  His complaints included, among other things, receiving contradictory information from his employer and the employer’s third party FMLA administrator regarding the status of his leave, not being informed of deadlines for the submission of leave-related documents, being cited for attendance violations on days that should have been classified as FMLA leave, and ultimately being fired for seeking to exercise his FMLA rights.  While this case is in its initial stages, a review of the employee’s allegations highlights two concerns for employers: (1) employees who are responsible for making or influencing decisions regarding an employee’s FMLA entitlement may be, in some jurisdictions, held personally liable for those decisions even if they do not directly supervise the employee; and (2) while employers may outsource certain FMLA functions to a third-party, employers cannot outsource the legal responsibility for the acts and/or omissions of their FMLA vendors. The FMLA has been in effect for 20 years yet it remains one of the most complex federal employment laws.  Accordingly, employers should consider on-going training for employees who are involved with the administration of FMLA policies. The alternative -- avoidable litigation -- is far more expensive.