- A worker's claim that her employer violated her rights under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) may see jury trial. The Houston Emergency Center fired Iyhana Byrd for missing two weeks of work, she alleged — an absence that it approved as FMLA leave until its FMLA coordinator realized Byrd wasn't eligible for FMLA coverage because she had not worked 1,250 hours in the previous 12 months (Byrd v. City of Houston, No. H-18-778 (S.D. Texas Jan. 29, 2019)).
- Byrd and the City of Houston's emergency center agreed she was not eligible for FMLA coverage when she requested leave. They disagree, however, on which party should shoulder the consequences of the mistake. While the city claimed Byrd should have deduced her ineligibility from the information it gave her when she started as a 9-1-1 telecommunicator, Byrd disagreed, saying the the FMLA coordinator approved her leave and she relied on that information.
- The dispute over whether Byrd's reliance on the approval was reasonable and "to her detriment" is a "genuine factual dispute," the court said in explaining why it denied both parties summary judgment. "The temporal proximity connecting Byrd's leave, the City's retroactive denial of FMLA leave eligibility, and her termination, raises factual disputes material to whether retaliation was the reason for her termination," the court said.
Leave management causes big problems for HR — only 1 in 4 HR professionals have successful absence and disability management programs, according to The Standard's Absence and Disability Readiness Index. It follows, then, that FMLA mistakes are inevitable. But this doesn't mean employers should punish employees for a mistake they could be partially responsible for, according to Eric B. Meyer, partner at FisherBroyles LLP and author of The Employer Handbook blog. "FMLA mistakes happen. When they do, it's ok to correct them," he wrote in a blog post. "But, generally, it's not ok to penalize an employee for it."
The difficult nature of leave management makes it an area ripe for training opportunities. Employers should target supervisors and managers, who often field leave requests from employees, for FMLA learning. The U.S. Department of Labor provides FMLA e-tools for both employees and employers. Beyond that, employers can help managers understand key components of the FMLA so they can, for example, differentiate between sick days and FMLA leave, deal with intermittent leave and consistently enforce FMLA-related policies.
The FMLA is not the only employment law employers should provide training on for managerial staff. "Every single manager needs to know a little something about employment law 101," according to Ogletree Deakins Office Managing Shareholder Gregory J. Hare. Because managers speak on behalf of the company that employs them, they need to have a working knowledge of the laws that govern business practices, he told attendees at a recent conference.