The Law @ Work

Manager’s Misstep Leads to Potential $1.2 Million FMLA Verdict

A recent FMLA case highlights the importance of providing training to your managers and supervisors — including your higher level execs — so that they can recognize an employee’s request for FMLA leave.  This case – Hurley v. Kent of Naples —isn’t from Massachusetts, but the lessons are universal.  Patrick Hurley was the president of a security company who suffered from depression and anxiety.  After a particularly difficult period, his doctor recommended a leave of absence.  Hurley told his CEO that he had been diagnosed with depression and that he needed time off to deal with it.  The CEO told Hurley that “we’ve had a great run together,” but it’s “time to part ways.”  Immediately after that conversation, Hurley was terminated.  He sued under the FMLA, alleging FMLA interference and retaliation, and the case went to trial.  Hurley won, and although the damages award has not yet been established, some estimate that it could be as high as $1.2 million, based on back pay, front pay, liquidated (punitive) damages, attorneys’ fees, and interest.

Bottom line:  Where company management is unaware of the company’s obligations under the FMLA, that’s a big problem.  Notice to management, at whatever level, is notice to the company, triggering the company’s obligations to provide notices to the employee involved — within 5 business days!  An employer also will have obligations under the ADA when an employee isn’t eligible for FMLA leave, either before he becomes eligible, or after he has exhausted his FMLA leave.  Employers should provide their management team with FMLA/ADA training, including what constitutes a serious health condition, what a manager may and may not ask an employee about his need for leave, and how to manage an employee with a medical condition.  If you spend the money now to train your managers, you will likely save more money in the long run, because you won’t have to hire counsel to defend an FMLA/ADA matter — or pay huge damages awards if you lose.  Think about that when you are planning your 2013 training budget.     And don’t forget to include senior management, not just the mid-level managers.  Senior managers can make mistakes too, and the problems their mistakes create can be more expensive.

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