Suit: Wegmans employee told to 'suck it up' after requesting FMLA leave
- A former Wegmans Food Markets Inc. employee has sued the grocer, claiming violations of federal law, including a supervisor's alleged campaign of harassment and retaliation based on her use of Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave (Hanson Bartman v. Wegmans Food Markets Inc. and Arlo Trainor, No. 4:18-cv-40119 (D. Mass., July 17, 2018)).
- In court filings, Jordan Hanson Bartman said she was treated as a valued employee until she took FMLA leave, which coincided with the hiring of a new manager. Bartman said the supervisor berated her after her mother called out on her behalf following a car accident that required hospitalization. Additionally, when she requested FMLA leave, the company delayed approval until after a busy holiday season, she alleged, adding that her supervisor told her to "suck it up" and warned her that her intermittent leave was becoming a burden to the rest of the staff.
- Finally, the employer required that she obtain a doctor’s note every time she took leave and required that, if she couldn’t come in to work, she call at least two hours before the start of her shift. She was eventually fired for "chronic absences, tardiness and failure to follow procedures."
Experts regularly cite front-line managers as a major cause of federal employment law violations. They create problems by wearing their hearts on their sleeves and failing to enforce workplace policies, speakers told attendees at the Society for Human Resource Management's (SHRM) recent annual conference.
But training can go a long way toward preventing discrimination and retaliation. Among other things, HR can can teach supervisors to keep their emotions in check; managers need to know they may not sigh, swear or otherwise make clear that they're unhappy when they find out about an employee's need for leave, Jeff Nowak, a partner at Franczek Radelet, said at the conference. Give them the canned responses to use when they hear requests, he suggested; "Let me know how I can help you" is a good one, he added.
Make clear that this extends to communication in which the employee is not involved, too. Managers shouldn't be emailing HR or other managers, lamenting the effect the leave will have, said Matt Morris, VP of FMLASource, ComPsych Corporation; "That's what their clergy and their therapists are for."
Additionally, the FMLA and its regulations have strict requirements about medical certifications and call-out procedures, especially around unforeseen and intermittent leave. Employers may want to ensure their policies and procedures comply, and are enforced consistently.