A recent case from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals serves as an important reminder that those who administer Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) programs can be sued along with the company when and FMLA claim is made. In Graziadio v. Culinary Institute of America, the appellate court reversed a trial court victory for the employer and the two individual supervisors (one of whom was the HR Director) who were sued for allegedly interference and retaliation for taking FMLA leave.
According to court documents, Cathleen Graziadio took a three-week leave under the FMLA to care for her ill child. This leave was immediately followed by a second leave to care for another child who had broken a leg. When Graziado attempted to return to work, the Culinary Institute challenged the validity of the leaves, and requested “additional paperwork” to justify her absence. At the same time, the Culinary Institute refused to allow Graziado to return to work. The Culinary Institute also refused tell Graziado what paperwork it required, taking the position that it was not the company’s obligation to explain deficiencies in FMLA documentation. Graziadio made efforts to comply with the Culinary Institute’s requests and also stated several times her desire to return to her job. The Culinary Institute ultimately terminated Graziadio, claiming that she had abandoned her job and failed to comply with FMLA requirements. A full copy of the Second Circuit’s opinion in Graziadio v. Culinary Institute of America is available here.
It has been well-established by the courts that managers or supervisors who participate in Fair Labor Standards Acts (FLSA) violations can be sued and held individually liable for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act. With this case, the Second Circuit Court has concluded that individual managers or supervisors acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer with respect to its employee may also be deemed “employers” and are subject to suit under the FMLA. An “employer” is defined as as “any person who acts, directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer to any of the employees of such employer.”
So what is an FMLA administrator to do? As always, documentation is critical. FMLA documentation from employees along with summaries of communications with those employees is key in defending the company and individual human resource professional from FMLA suits. Secondly, when making decisions related to employee FMLA requests, proceed with caution and be sure to comply with the requirements of the FMLA when processing requests for leave. If there are any doubts about compliance, always consult with your company’s legal counsel. To answer your FMLA questions, feel free to contact YPHR’s legal advisor, Jennifer Corso.