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Employers May Be Bound by Supervisor’s Decisions on FMLA Leave

A recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit (which covers Iowa, Arkansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North and South Dakota) reminds employers of the need to train supervisors on how to properly discuss Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave with employees or pay the consequences.  In Murphy v. FedEx, Inc., an employee who was out on FMLA leave informed her supervisor she wanted thirty more days of leave before returning to work.  The supervisor said ‘sure’ and said he would inform HR of her additional leave.  However, HR found the employee was not entitled to the extra FMLA leave, denied the additional leave and discharged the employee for excessive absenteeism.  The District Court said once the supervisor answered ‘yes’ to the request, the employer was bound even if no FMLA leave was warranted.  The fact that the supervisor lacked the authority to grant the leave was immaterial.

The moral of the story is to train all supervisors on the FMLA.  Part of such training should include instructing supervisors not to give a definitive answer when an employee requests FMLA leave.  The supervisor’s response should be “I will have to check with HR and get back to you.”  

Brody and Associates regularly provides counsel on the FMLA, as well as employment law issues in general.  If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at info@brodyandassociates.com or 203.965.0560.