Ouch, That Hurts! Supervisors May Be Liable for FMLA Violations

Ouch, That Hurts! Supervisors May Be Liable for FMLA Violations

In this case of first impression in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers PA, NJ, DE, and USVI, the court ruled that a supervisor in a public agency may be subject to personal liability under the Family and Medical Leave Act. The court further emphasized that there is "no reason to distinguish between public agencies and private employers under the FMLA insofar as individual liability is concerned."

Holy Schnikes!

The court emphasized that Congress intended to include individuals with the scope of the FMLA definition of "employer":

[The] inclusion of "any person who acts, directly or indirectly, in the interest of an employer" [within the text of the FMLA] plainly contemplates that liability for FMLA violations may be imposed upon an individual person who would not otherwise be regarded as the plaintiffs "employer."

The Court further noted that the Department of Labor's implementing regulations for the FMLA confirm that the FMLA permits individual liability:

The regulations state that individuals such as corporate officers acting in the interest of an employer are individually liable for any violations of the requirements of FMLA.

Therefore, even though a supervisor may not have ultimate authority over employment practices, supervisors do act as agents for their employers. Thus, while a higher decisionmaker may make the ultimate call on an employee, that does not relieve lower decisionmakers, such as supervisors, from liability.

So, local managers and supervisors in both the public and private sectors -- note: the Third Circuit rule does not apply across the country -- if you think that the worst thing that could happen to you for retaliating against an employee who takes FMLA is for you to lose your job, you better think again.

This article was originally published on Eric B. Meyer's blog, The Employer Handbook

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