…So this morning I was reading the DOL website and came across this piece highlighting a $275k plus back wages settlement levied against Staples Contract and Commercial for failing to properly notify an executive of his right to take job protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act prior to discharging his employment. For those unfamiliar with the act (abbreviated FMLA for short), it essentially entitles workers in the U.S. to job-protected and unpaid leave for qualifying medical and family reasons.
In the case outlined on the DOL site, Staples terminated an employee for lost time associated with the care of his wife without informing him of his right to take job protected leave as outlined by the FMLA. The resulting settlement and excoriation by the DOL on its’ website will lead to bad press that may ultimately damage Staples’ employment brand to the tune of damages that far exceed the monetary costs outlined in its settlement with the DOL and employee.
…That said, I share this piece not to draw attention to Staples, but to note that any company that doesn’t properly train its leaders on employer obligations under the law could find itself in a similar situation. To this point, consider a few facts:
1. An employee doesn’t have to specifically ask for FMLA coverage in order to be protected under the act – he/she only needs to provide enough information about their situation for said employer to be able to infer it may be covered under the act.
2. There are a number of nuances to the FMLA that a manager not trained on the act may not know about – such as the fact that employees that accumulated part of their initial qualifying 1,250 hours and 12 month’s service while working as contractors must have those hours counted for purposes of calculating FMLA eligibility once employed full-time.
…In essence, any company with 50 or more employees working within a tight geographic region that doesn’t educate its managers on the rules governing FMLA risks creating a scenario in which an employee isn’t informed of their right to job protection under the act… and an outcome like that experienced by Staples.
^To this point, perhaps the most important takeaway from the DOL posting is below:
…Staples also agreed to promote an enterprise-wide policy for compliance with the FMLA by providing training for human resources and other managerial personnel with respect to FMLA notice and eligibility requirements.
^More than anything, educating people managers on the labor and employment law issues conceivably likely to impact their workforce is key to incorporating policies and processes that (i) properly manage risks, and (ii) ensure that employees are treated fairly. After all, as I’ve said before most people want to do the right thing… so long as they know what it is.