Employers or their outsourced HR Departments cannot delay the granting of FMLA or the return of a worker from FMLA
It was recently found that an employer interfered with an employee’s Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) rights when its third-party administrator (outsourced HR Department) 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, who was an event supervisor with the defendant 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 return to work 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, and failing to reinstate Eagle to his position even though he was able to perform the duties of his job.
Eagle claimed 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.
It is important to keep in mind that employers or their agents cannot interfere with an employee’s right to take FMLA, seek FMLA benefits, or return from work after being out on intermittent FMLA or continual FMLA. Outsourced HR Departments are commonplace in today’s workforce, and although these outsourced departments may require more time to review information and make decisions, this is no excuse to delay FMLA.
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