- Regional grocery store chain Publix Super Markets paid more than $17,000 to an employee it allegedly fired for taking leave protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act, the U.S. Department of Labor announced Dec. 8.
- Investigators for DOL’s Wage and Hour Division said the chain illegally terminated a Florida warehouse worker after the worker exercised their right to take FMLA leave for a qualifying health condition, the announcement said. Investigators also determined that Publix failed to provide the worker with required information, including: 1) a timely eligibility notification letter, which informs an employee they’re eligible for FMLA leave, according to a DOL employer handbook; 2) notice of the worker’s rights and responsibilities; and 3) a designation notice, informing the worker their requested leave would be designated as FMLA leave.
- DOL said it recovered $12,727 in back wages and $5,127 in medical expenses for the worker. The FMLA “protects eligible workers from an employer’s interference, restraint or retaliation when they take qualifying leave,” WHD District Director Daniel Cronin said in the announcement. “Employees who experience violations may be entitled to reinstatement, payment of back wages or other make-whole relief for medical expenses,” he said. Publix did not respond to a request for a comment prior to press time.
The FMLA’s detailed rules can create a compliance headache for employers, but failure to follow them often is a violation of the statute.
The law sets out specific notice requirements and DOL’s handbook provides a road map to guide employers through the process.
First, employers must determine whether they’re covered by the FMLA. If so, they must display or post an informative general notice about the statute, the handbook states. The poster must be displayed in plain view, where all employees and applicants can readily see it, and it must have large enough text so it can be easily read. Employers can download the poster here.
Next, when an employee asks for FMLA leave, or when the employer learns a worker needs time off for an FMLA-qualifying reason, it must determine if the employee is eligible for FMLA leave, based on certain requirements such as hours worked.
After the employer determines whether or not the employee is eligible for FMLA leave, it must provide the employee with an “Eligibility Notice,” either orally or in writing within five business days of the employee’s initial request or when the employer learns the leave may be for a qualifying reason, DOL’s handbook explains. The notice informs the employee whether or not they’re eligible for FMLA leave. If the employer determines the employee is not eligible, it must state at least one reason why.
Within that timeframe, the employer also must provide the employee with a written “Rights and Responsibilities Notice.” Among other things, the notice must include a statement of the period of leave that may be designated and counted against the employee’s FMLA leave entitlement; the 12-month period used to track FMLA leave usage; and whether the employee will be required to provide certification of the need for leave, according to the handbook. That notice also must explain whether the employer will require the employee to use any available paid leave concurrently, among other things.
If the employer determines the leave is FMLA-qualifying, it must also give the employee a “Designation Notice,” the DOL handbook explains. This notice informs the employee that the requested leave will be designated as FMLA leave and sets out the requirements applicable while the employee is on leave.
Finally, employers may not retaliate against an employee for exercising their FMLA rights. Examples of retaliation include: using the taking of FMLA leave as a negative factor in disciplinary actions and counting FMLA leave under a “no fault” attendance policy, the handbook states.