The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) grants important rights to many workers across the country. The statute also erects some specific obligations on both workers and employers. A worker’s failure to meet their obligations can result in a loss of eligibility for leave, while an employer’s failure to follow the rules can come with a substantial cost, as well. Whether you’re on the employer side or worker side, it pays to ensure that you are following the FMLA’s rules with precision, and a knowledgeable Atlanta FMLA leave lawyer can help you do exactly that.
Recently, a Georgia employer’s failure to meet its FMLA obligations came with the cost of a U.S. Department of Labor investigation and a payment of $67,140 to one of its workers.
The worker was a dock supervisor at a logistics company’s Covington facility. As he prepared for the arrival of his new child in the Spring of 2022, the supervisor submitted a request to take FMLA leave to bond with his new baby and to care for his ill spouse.
The child arrived on April 21. Six weeks later, the employer convened a meeting where it accused the supervisor of “wage theft” and fired him. The employer told the supervisor that it had never approved the man’s request for FMLA leave to care for his spouse. A week later, the employer notified the supervisor that it had canceled the man’s request for parental leave back on April 13. According to the Labor Department, the June meeting was the first time that the supervisor learned about the April 13 cancelation.
Generally, it is a statutory violation for an employer to refuse an eligible employee’s properly made request for FMLA leave. An employer is entitled to ask for a medical certification and, if the employee does not provide the employer with “a complete and sufficient certification,” then the employer may deny the leave on that limited basis. The law gives an employee who has requested FMLA leave 15 days to provide a certification once the employer asks for it.
Additionally, once the employer receives the certification it requested, it may deny the requested leave if the information provided in the certification indicates that the alleged condition isn’t a qualifying one under the FMLA’s standards. In general, the FMLA requires that a condition involve some degree of incapacitation to be a qualifying one.
If your employer denies your FMLA request, keep in mind that you only have a limited period of time to attack that denial, whether through filing a private lawsuit or filing a complaint with the Labor Department.
Who’s Eligible… and Which Employers are ‘Covered’ under the Law
To be eligible for FMLA, you must have worked for your employer for at least 12 months, must have put in at least 1,250 hours during the 12-month period immediately preceding your leave request, and your employer must be a “covered employer.”) “Covered employer” means an employer that has at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius.
In the Covington case, the supervisor’s spouse had a qualifying condition, the logistics company was a covered employer, and the supervisor was an eligible employee. Additionally, the supervisor had a valid claim for parental leave under the FMLA.
“Employers cannot deprive an employee eligible for Family and Medical Leave of their legal rights, and force them to make the hard choice between keeping their jobs and caring for themselves or their families. Federal law prevents employers from retaliating against workers who choose to exercise their right to bond with a newborn child,” the Wage and Hour Division District Director said in a news release.
The investigation resulted in the supervisor receiving more than $67,000, which represented both back pay and front pay for one year.
Federal law has strict rules prohibiting employers from interfering with employees’ FMLA rights. That includes denying valid leave requests, erecting extra-legal hurdles, or retaliating against workers who seek to exercise their FMLA rights. If you have questions about FMLA issues, the knowledgeable Atlanta FMLA leave attorneys at the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert are here to help. Our team has substantial experience with FMLA matters, so you can confidently rely on the advice we give you about your FMLA situation. Contact us through this website or at 404-873-8048 to schedule a consultation.