The Wagner Law Group
Wagner Law Group, A Professional Corporation, is a nationally
recognized ERISA & employee benefits, estate planning,
employment, labor & human resources practice.
in 1996, The Wagner Law Group has 22 attorneys engaged
exclusively in employee benefits, estate planning and
employment law. Six of our attorneys are AV rated by
Martindale-Hubbell as having very high to preeminent legal abilities
and ethical standards. The firm is among the largest ERISA boutiques
in the country. Our practice is national in scope, with clients in
more than 40 states and several foreign countries.
Wagner Law Group
Fax: (561) 293-3591
7108 Fairway Drive
Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33418
East Kennedy Boulevard
Tampa, FL 33602
Francisco, CA 94104
100 South 4th Street, Suite 550
St. Louis, MO 63102
March 24, 2016
Health and Welfare Law
Federal Court Rules HR
Director May Be Individually Liable Under FMLA
Second Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled, in Graziadio v.
Culinary Institute of America, that human resources personnel and
supervisors who handle the administration of leave requests under the
Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") may be personally
liable for FMLA interference and retaliation claims. In particular,
the court held that a human resources ("HR") director may
be liable, as a "person who acts, directly or indirectly, in the
interest of an employer" toward an employee.
Background. In Graziadio, the plaintiff initially
took two weeks of FMLA leave to care for her sick child, and then
later took additional leave to care for another child who had broken
his leg. The employer's HR director took issue with the plaintiff's
FMLA paperwork, claiming it was insufficient to justify the absences,
and refused to allow her to return to work until she provided new
director never clarified what additional information was needed or
why the original paperwork was deficient. Nevertheless, the plaintiff
provided the HR director with updated medical information. Again, the
HR director did not respond and ultimately terminated the employee
for job abandonment.
plaintiff responded by suing the employer and the HR director for
interference and retaliation under FMLA.
Circuit's Decision. The court
found that there was sufficient evidence for the plaintiff to advance
her FMLA claim against the HR director individually as her
"employer." Applying the "economic reality test"
used in Fair Labor Standards Act cases, the court found that issues
existed as to the HR director's authority, since she appeared to have
played an important role in the decision to fire the employee and
also controlled her rights under FMLA.
NOTE: The key issue under the economic reality test
is the power an individual has over the employee's terms and
conditions of employment, including whether the individual has the
power to hire and fire the employee, maintains employment records,
determines the rate and method of pay, or sets and supervises the
work schedule. In an FMLA case,, the most critical factor is whether
or not the individual controlled the plaintiff's FMLA leave.
authority to terminate an employee in this case rested with the
employer's president. However, because the president did not conduct
an independent investigation and instead agreed with the HR
director's recommendation to terminate, the court found that the HR
director played an important role in the plaintiff's termination. The
court also concluded that the HR director exercised control over the
employee's schedule and conditions of employment by handling the FMLA
leave, including reviewing the paperwork and communicating with the
employee. For the foregoing reasons, the court said the HR director
could be individually liable for FMLA violations.
for Employers. Employers should
inform HR personnel and supervisors handling FMLA requests of their
potential liability and ensure that they are regularly trained on
compliance. Moreover, employers or HR personnel who choose to
challenge an employee's FMLA paperwork must be prepared to provide
specific reasons to justify their actions.