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Human resource personnel could be liable in FMLA cases

A California worker dealing with difficulties related to using FMLA leave might wonder about a human resources department's role in a situation, especially if adverse action is taken. An employee could be asked to provide medical documentation to substantiate a request for leave, but there are certain limitations on the employer's part in terms of the timing of such a request. Because much of this activity tends to be handled by human resources personnel, the staff member making any critical decisions related to an employee's standing with a company could be held personally liable for violations of that party's FMLA rights.

This issue was addressed by a federal appeals court in connection with a discrimination case brought by a woman against her supervisor and her FMLA director. During the appeals process, the woman admitted that the supervisor was not actually liable. However, communication problems involving the HR director left the employee in a position of not knowing exactly what documentation was required or when it was due. The woman requested FMLA time on two separate occasions, providing medical documentation in the earlier situation without being asked. In the second instance, she did not provide such documentation, and it was not requested at first.

Although her company's employee handbook outlined the need to provide medical certification when taking leave in accordance with the FMLA, the court highlighted the fact that an employer must make a request within five days of an employee requesting such leave. The Court also noted that the HR director acted as an employer in her communications and decisions and could be held liable.

Clear communication could help in avoiding misunderstandings and adverse outcomes related to FMLA requests. However, some employers could make inappropriate decisions based on a lack of understanding of the law. If major disciplinary action is taken, an affected employee might meet with an employment law attorney to see what options are available.

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