Human Resources Departments are often criticized for their mounds of forms, regulations and legal-jargon. Following this week’s decision in Graziadio v. Culinary Institute of America, HR’s liability concerns may rise to new heights. The Graziadio decision appears to have open an avenue for HR professionals to be held legally liable under FMLA.
Basically what the Court (Second Circuit) determined in this case is that the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) mirrors the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). FLSA is often very broadly interpreted and often allows individual liability. Using that comparison the Graziadio Court held that the human resources director involved in the case could be found personally liable under the FMLA.
Alexander Leonard drills deeper into the details of the decision,
The Second Circuit analyzed the “economic reality” factors commonly reviewed in FLSA cases and found that, although traditional hire and fire authority rested with a vice president at [the company in the case], the human resources director had been given effective control over the plaintiff’s employment by overseeing her FMLA leave requests. The human resources director also arguably exercised control over the Plaintiff’s schedule and conditions of employment by controlling the terms of her FMLA leave, handling all leave related communications, and ultimately communicating her termination. Therefore, the human resources director could be held individually liable given this level of control.
Wow. This decision is a “shot across the bow” for HR professionals. FMLA has always been one of the most complicated statues to handle in the workplace. But now the head of HR can be roped into lawsuits not just the organization.
This spring may be an excellent time to audit how your organization handles its FMLA cases – in consultation with a proper employment law attorney.