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Woman terminated after FMLA leave, HR director may be liable

As long as certain conditions are met, Pennsylvania employees may take time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act to care for family members. In one case, a federal appeals court ruled that when a woman was terminated after taking FMLA leave, the human resources director could be directly liable as the employer although when the case went to appeal, the terminated employee said that she did not consider the director responsible.

In the case, the woman took time off twice at intervals close to one another to care for her children. First, her older son was diagnosed with diabetes, and then her younger son was injured playing basketball and had to have surgery on his fractured leg. On the day the woman was supposed to return from work, her supervisor contacted her to find out her status. The woman said she could return three days later but would need to be part-time for approximately another month to six weeks.

At that point, the human resources director took over and asked the woman for documentation. However, the district court found her communications and requests unclear. The court also made a number of additional points including pointing out that documentation is only necessary if it is asked for and that both employers and employees have limited time frames in which to request or provide documentation.

People who believe they are eligible for FMLA leave but have been denied it or people who feel they have faced retaliation as a result of taking FMLA leave may want to speak to an attorney. It is not yet clear what affect this court ruling will have on future cases in terms of whether other individuals who deny FMLA leave to an employee might be considered liable. Employers might prefer to try to settle a case out of court.

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