Employers are frequently frustrated by supervisors’ refusal or inability to comply with Family and Medical Leave Act requirements. Lack of information from managers causes headaches when trying to determine if an employee should be receiving FMLA leave, and in tracking and managing such leave.
Many managers fail to notify HR when an employee may have an FMLA-triggering event – like being out of work for more than three days or an overnight hospital stay. They may also fail to recognize a continuing condition requiring intermittent leave. They may simply ignore “red flags” when an employee mentions ongoing doctor’s appointments or symptoms causing absences from work.
Do you think that managers would be more vigilant if they knew that they could be individually liable for FMLA violations? Perhaps a cautionary example can be useful in getting their attention, such as the March 16, 2012 case of Ainsworth v. Loudon County School Board.
In that case, involving public employees, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia found that an individual manager can be held individually liable under the FMLA. The court noted that the FMLA defines an “employer” as including “any person who acts, directly or indirectly, in the interest of an employer to any of the employees of such employer.” The court further noted that this definition is similar to that under the Fair Labor Standards Act, and most courts have found individual liability for FLSA violations where the managers “have sufficient control over the conditions and terms of a plaintiff’s employment.”
In the private employer context, the courts have consistently held that individuals may be liable for FMLA violations. Perhaps the possibility of individual liability will encourage managers to think more carefully about the FMLA. No one wants to be a named defendant in a lawsuit.