- The University of Northern Iowa has agreed to pay $59,688 in back wages and liquidated damages to settle claims that it violated the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) by firing a custodian who took leave to care for an ailing adult child, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) said in a press statement.
- The employee requested leave, but the employer fired the employee during what DOL Wage and Hour Division (WHD) investigators considered a protected leave period. "The [FMLA] protects employees in just this type of circumstance and allows critically needed workplace flexibility precisely when employees need it the most," WHD Assistant District Director Adam Wombacher said in a statement.
- The employer agreed to amend the employee's personnel file to reflect her subsequent retirement. It also agreed to provide FMLA training to supervisors in the employee's department as well as FMLA and Americans with Disabilities Act training to the university's human resources department.
The FMLA provides that covered employers must allow eligible employees to take up to 12 workweeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in a 12-month period for family and medical reasons. While it's most often viewed as providing time off for an employee's serious health conditions, the federal law also provides that employees can take leave for the birth or placement of a child; to care for a spouse, child or parent who has a serious health condition; and for any qualifying need related to the fact that a spouse, child or parent is a military member on covered active duty or called to covered active duty status, according to DOL.
FMLA leave can be used to care for a son or daughter age 18 or older, DOL notes in guidance. Specifically, the agency said an employee can take FMLA leave to care for an adult son or daughter if the adult child is incapable of taking care of himself or herself because of a mental or physical impairment that "substantially limits one or more of the individual's major life activities."
Experts say managers often miss the mark when it comes to FMLA requests. Jeff Nowak, a shareholder at Littler Mendelson P.C., told HR Dive in an earlier interview that because employees don't have to cite the FMLA when asking for leave, managers can fail to recognize that the request qualifies under the FMLA. Managers who don't recognize that an employee is asking for FMLA leave sometimes penalize the worker by docking pay or some other sort of discipline, which can create problems under the federal statute, Nowak said. To prevent this, WHD suggests in its employer guide that employers train managers and supervisors to recognize FMLA requests.
To avoid compliance mistakes, employers can take several steps, including posting DOL's FMLA poster providing supervisors and managers with FMLA training.