There is one particular section of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) that doesn’t get a ton of press. Anyway, it now seems that overlooking it can turn out to be a huge gaffe, and that too a very expensive one!
Let us throw one simple question - when requesting an FMLA certification from an employee, do you highlight in writing what the outcomes are of neglecting to give an adequate certification? If not, you cannot take any disciplinary action against the worker for failing to make available an adequate certification, such as denying leave or terminating the employee since that particular employee’s absence isn’t considered as FMLA leave.
It’s all laid out clearly under 29.C.F.R 825.305(b) section of the FMLA.
In recent months, FedEx failed to comply with this regulation and ended up paying $173,000 in back pay and damages to an employee terminated after she failed to provide a medical certification.
Tina Wallace, a senior paralegal at FedEx suffered from several health issues. When her health deteriorated, FedEx offered her FMLA leave and requested that she finish medical certification forms and return them within the next 15 days.
Wallace, on the other hand failed to return the forms within said time since she couldn’t bring herself to contact them, or see them or directly handover the forms because of her health.
When the medical certification forms didn’t reach on time, Wallace’s manager tried getting in touch her several times by phone, claiming he received a busy signal every single time. Her manager also sent her an email stating that he had received none of the requested forms from her, however, he did not receive any read receipt from Wallace indicating that she had opened or read the email.
Without further ado, FedEx terminated Waller for neglecting to obey its attendance policy which clearly states that “employees who are absent for two (2) consecutive workdays without notifying a member of management within their organizational hierarchy shall be considered to have voluntarily resigned their employment with FedEx.”
Wallace then sued for FMLA meddling. During the trial, Wallace claimed that she would have returned the required medical forms in time had she known the consequences of not doing so.
FedEx fought her suit, asserting that Wallace was never entitled to FMLA benefits since she failed to return the certification form required under the law and if she wasn’t eligible for benefits, FedEx couldn’t have meddled with them.
The court denied this indication, ruling a reasonable jury could conclude that FedEx failed to comply with the FMLA prerequisite to clarify the outcomes of not giving back a medical certification form.
Wallace's case then went before a jury, which ruled she should receive $173,000 in back pay and damages and that award was later validated by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.