FMLA Interference Claims and the Importance of Accurate FMLA-Related Administration and Recordkeeping

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) creates several responsibilities for employers, not the least of which is proper FMLA-related recordkeeping. The law allows employers to use a rolling 12-month period to assess an employee’s entitlement to leave. That allowance, however, means that the employer must accurately monitor and record both workers’ FMLA usage (and remaining leave time) and the date when the 12-month period rolls over. Failure to do so accurately can lead to erroneous FMLA denials and, as a result, create liability exposure based on an FMLA interference lawsuit. If you’re an employer seeking to ensure complete FMLA compliance or a worker who believes you’ve been harmed by a wrongful denial of FMLA leave, an experienced Atlanta FMLA interference lawyer can provide essential advice and information about your situation.

To win an FMLA interference case in federal court in Georgia (or Florida or Alabama,) an employee must demonstrate that she “(1) ‘was denied a benefit to which she was entitled under the FMLA,’ and (2) as a result was prejudiced in some way that is remediable’” by a court judgment.

A recent FMLA case from here in North Georgia shows how a recordkeeping issue and the confusion it possibly caused created a potential instance of FMLA interference.

C.W. was an ambulatory nurse working for a major national health plan and also a woman dealing with irritable bowel syndrome and chronic migraines. When the nurse’s migraine and IBS problems flared up, she sometimes needed bed rest to recover. During her first several years with the employer (2017-2020,) the nurse used FMLA leave for these absences without any problems.

In 2020, the employer approved intermittent FMLA leave for the 12-month period ending in September 2021. The nurse – for “reasons that are not clear from” the parties’ court papers — made another request for FMLA leave in November 2020, and the employer approved that one, too. It covered the 12-month period ending on Nov. 11, 2021, meaning that the nurse had received two approvals for two partially overlapping 12-month periods.

Confusing? Potentially.

A Possible Violation of Employer Policy

By late September 2021, having “utilized all of her allotted intermittent FMLA hours for the twelve-month period approved by” the employer, the nurse asked her supervisor to initiate the recertification process. Even though both sides appeared to agree that October to September was the correct 12-month period, the employer denied the nurse’s recertification request “because she had already exhausted her yearly entitlement.” That denial suggested that the period ending in November 2021 was the 12-month period the employer used.

After the employer fired the nurse in early 2022, she sued for FMLA interference. The trial court denied the employer’s request for a summary judgment because the evidence the nurse presented established a potential example of actionable interference. Specifically, the nurse asserted that her supervisor triggered the recertification process (to cover the period ending in September 2022) and the employer denied that request because the nurse had already exhausted all her available FMLA leave.

Those allegations raised the possibility that the employer had become confused and had “incorrectly and inexplicably extended [the nurse’s] leave to a period of fourteen months” – September 2020 to November 2021 – which would have run contrary to the employer’s own FMLA policies. If the nurse proved that that was the case, it would amount to the employer’s having interfered with the nurse’s right to recertify.

The U.S. Department of Labor has stated that employers “covered by the FMLA are required to make, keep and preserve certain records pertaining to their obligations under the” FMLA. Employers must ensure not just that they keep those records, but that they keep them accurately. A wrongful denial of a worker’s FMLA rights — even if it results from a non-malicious recordkeeping error – is still a potential instance of actionable FMLA interference.

If you have questions about your rights or your obligations under the FMLA, the knowledgeable Atlanta FMLA interference attorneys at the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert have the experience-based advice and information you need to protect yourself. Get started today by contacting us at 404-873-8048 or through this website to schedule a consultation.

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