When an FMLA violation occurs, typically the business owner is the responsible party. But according to the terms used in the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA,) “employer” is a bit of a broader term. According to the Glossary of Terms Used in the FMLA:

Any person who acts, directly or indirectly, in the interest of an employer to any of the employees of such employer; Any successor in interest of an employer; and Any public agency.”

What this means is that even individuals such as managers, supervisors, or HR personnel, may
be held individually liable for FMLA violations alongside the business owner or company.

In the case of Cathleen Graziadio vs Culinary Institute of America (CIA), the court ruled to allow Graziadio to not only file a lawsuit against her employer, CIA, but she was also able to name Shaynan Garrioch, the director of HR for CIA, in her individual capacity as a plaintiff as well.

Graziadio requested FMLA leave to care for her 17-year-old son after he was hospitalized with complications related to his diabetes. After a few weeks, Graziadio returned to work and handed in the medical paperwork that supported her need for leave. Shortly after, she had to take time off of work again to tend to her 12-year-old son after he broke his leg playing basketball and needed surgery. She once again requested FMLA leave.

Before she was scheduled to return to work after the second absence, Graziadio asked if any further documentation was required from her regarding her two leaves, but received no answer. After several attempts by Graziadio to get an answer, she received a letter from CIA noting that the FMLA paperwork she provided did not justify her absences. After another attempt at finding out the correct paperwork needed with no answer, she was then told she couldn’t return to work without the correct medical documentation. Graziadio hired an attorney who was also unable to get any answers about paperwork, and followed up with a FMLA interference and retaliation lawsuit against CIA as well as Garrioch.

Naturally, the defense team attempted to get Graziadio’s lawsuit thrown out, arguing that Garrioch wasn’t an employer under the FMLA and, therefore, couldn’t be held individually liable.
The appeals court disagreed with the defense and ruled, not only, that Graziadio’s FMLA interference and retaliation claims could go to trial, but that Garrioch was rightly named as an employer.

It’s important to make sure that management are aware of FMLA laws and how to handle claims they are unsure of. As a business owner, how do you know who can be held accountable in a lawsuit in order to train the correct personnel?

The court in this case looked at four factors used under the FLSA to decide “employer” status in determining FMLA liability:

  • Whether the defendant had the power to fire and hire the plaintiff.
  • Whether the defendant controlled the plaintiff’s work schedules or conditions of employment.
  • Whether the defendant determined the rate and method of payment for the plaintiff.
  • Whether the defendant maintained employment records.

In the case of Graziadio vs Culinary Institute of America, the answer was a clear yes for two of those factors, and the court ruled that there was enough evidence to support that Garrioch controlled Graziadio’s FMLA rights in the capacity of an employer, and therefore could be held accountable for the violation.

The case will now go to a jury, and it is possible that the jury will find that Garrioch wasn’t personally liable – or even that Graziadio’s claims of FMLA interference and retaliation are not warranted. Regardless, this case is a good reminder that HR personnel, managers, and supervisors actually can be held individually liable in some FMLA violations.

A great way to take the guess work out of compliance with FMLA and other Labor Laws is by employing a PEO (Professional Employer Organization) firm under which the employer can outsource HR tasks and ensure requirements are met.

Emplicity understands that HR Outsourcing should be simple and meaningful. As a Professional Employer Organization (PEO), we strive to be a great partner in supporting your business. If you would like to request more information on how we can assist your needs, please reach out to us at 877-476-2339. We are located in California – Orange County, Los Angeles, and the greater Sacramento and San Francisco area.

NOTICE: Emplicity provides HR advice and recommendations. Information provided by Emplicity is not intended as a substitute for employment law counsel. At no time will Emplicity have the authority or right to make decisions on behalf of their clients.

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