- An employer interfered with an employee's Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) rights when its third-party administrator delayed his return to work for a month, a federal district court said, granting summary judgment for the plaintiff (Eagle v. SMG Salt Palace, No. 2:17-cv-1132-DB (D. Utah, Nov. 30, 2018)).
- Robert Eagle, an event supervisor with SMG Salt Palace, a Utah convention center, used intermittent leave for a serious health condition. After one absence, the employer's HR department told Eagle that his return-to-work release was insufficient and that he could not return until he had a satisfactory release. A few days later, he submitted the new release, which HR sent to the leave administrator. According to the court, only after several weeks and "multiple emails from Defendant," did the administrator review Eagle's release. It then requested more information, ultimately delaying his return to work by a month.
- Eagle sued, claiming interference with his right to return to work from FMLA leave. The court noted that the third-party administrator was unresponsive for almost a month following Eagle's attempt to return to work and that the employer did not respond to Eagle's inquiry, nor did it contact his doctors with follow-up questions. Therefore, the employer's failure to reinstate Eagle "was unlawful interference under the FMLA," the court concluded.
Employers are increasingly outsourcing absence management, according to the Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC). And while the practice is more common among large companies, recent research from DMEC shows that the overall trend to outsource, regardless of company size, is strong.
Doing so can certainly alleviate some burdens for HR and benefits professionals, but employers must remember that they're ultimately responsible for compliance with employment laws.
Experts suggest that HR ask the right questions when evaluating any vendor — from questioning leave administrators about FMLA compliance to asking data analytics companies about their understanding of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Employers also can ask vendors about indemnification, although some may be reluctant to provide it. Instead, more employers opting for employment practices liability insurance.