2016 rules in favor of employers regarding FMLA
February 8, 2017
By Lori Stewart, SPHR®, SHRM-SCP, HCS, Partner, Human Resources Consulting
Employers are typically resigned to the fact that employment laws, and many times courts, usually favor the employee. The picture is often illustrated of the big, bad giant (employer with supposed deep pockets) taking on the stand-alone helpless hero (employee). Regardless of the accuracy or inaccuracy of this picture, the employer may often feel it has a bigger burden of proof in order to have any chance of success in a lawsuit or court case. However, 2016 may have disproved this train of thought as more and more court cases were ruled in favor of the employer.
This was especially true in court cases involving the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). When it comes to FMLA claims, it is more typical for the burden of proof to shift to the employee. Many times this can mean that, unless an employer had a clear disregard for an employee’s request or demonstrated malicious intent, for example, courts tended to favor the employer. In fact, for claims of retaliation in 2016, some courts have shifted from the general idea of retaliation occurring after an employee’s return from leave to its occurrence when the employee first requests leave.
As always, regardless of a favorable year of rulings for employers in 2016, attorneys and the courts rely heavily on documentation. The best intentions can be disregarded without it. Documentation such as handbook policies and FMLA paperwork proved helpful to employers. Those who request FMLA time are not untouchable. Employees who are on intermittent leave, for example, with written requirement of call-in or periodic check-ups can and should be held to a company’s expectations of such. In 2017, it will be interesting to see if this trend continues.