Benefits & Compensation News

Egregious FMLA gaffe costs employer $58K

The results of a recent DOL investigation should leave you shaking your head at one company’s FMLA mistake.

Recently, bottled water company O Premium Waters was acquired by D.S. Waters (d.b.a., “Sparkletts”), another water company.

And just prior to the acquisition, O Premium truck driver Peter Lyle was placed on company approved FMLA leave.

Sparkletts ended up retaining 87% of O Premium’s drivers.

But guess who was among the 13% sent packing? Peter Lyle.

DOL investigates

His termination sparked a DOL investigation into whether Lyle’s FMLA rights had been interfered with.

Under the FMLA, employers are required to restore employees returning from FMLA leave to the same position they had before taking leave — or an equivalent one.

Sparkletts doesn’t appear to have had much of a case for why it didn’t restore Lyle to his previous position. After all, it retained the vast majority of O Premium employees who held the same position as Lyle.

So … surprise, surprise … the DOL ruled that Sparkletts had violated the FMLA.

Following the ruling, the DOL and Sparkletts entered into a consent judgment — basically an agreement between all parties involved in a suit — in which the company agreed to reinstate Lyle to his old position with full seniority and pay him nearly $27,000 in back wages.

But that wasn’t the end of the damage for Sparkletts. When Lyle lost his job, he also lost his medical benefits. And as a result, he incurred more than $31,000 in medical bills — all of which Sparkletts was required to reimburse him for as well.

Needed: Supporting reasons

There’s no telling what Sparkletts was thinking when it decided to terminate Lyle — although it appears as though it wasn’t thinking.

But there’s one thing this case makes very clear: Even in situations where acquisitions occur, the acquiring company may have to fulfill the FMLA obligations taken on by the acquired employer.

While the FMLA, doesn’t shield employees on medical leave from every kind of adverse action imaginable, employers still need to establish some very compelling reasons to terminate an employee on — or returning from — FMLA leave. And those reasons need to be accompanied by detailed supporting documentation.

Without those docs, a termination involving an employee on FMLA leave is bound to be shot down in court — and in a DOL investigation.

Cite: Solis v. D.S. Waters of America

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