August 31, 2010

Supervisor’s “Cool” FMLA comment lands FedEx in hot water

Posted in Family and Medical Leave Act, Leaves of Absence tagged , , , , , , at 7:32 am by Tom Jacobson

When FedEx employee Susan Murphy’s husband was hospitalized, she requested leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to help him through his serious health condition.  After she followed the company’s procedures, FedEx granted her request.

Sadly, Murphy’s husband died a short time later.  She became distraught and needed more time off.  Her supervisor, Jeff Karnes, reminded her that her FMLA leave had ended, but he also asked how much more time she would need before returning to work.  Murphy said thirty days, and Karnes responded, “Okay, cool, not a problem.  I’ll let HR know.”  Without following any of the company’s procedures for extending her FMLA leave, Murphy continued her leave.  However, the company later denied Murphy’s request and fired her.

Murphy sued FedEx, claiming that the company interfered with her FMLA rights.  One of the key issues in the case was whether or not it was appropriate for Murphy to continue her leave without following the company’s procedures.  Ultimately, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit concluded that under the circumstances, a reasonable jury could find that Murphy had notified FedEx that she was requesting FMLA leave and that  it was reasonable for her to rely on FedEx’s representation (that is, Karne’s “Cool” comment) that her leave was authorized.

In other words, by responding to Murphy’s request for thirty more days with “Okay, cool, not a problem.  I’ll let HR know,” Karnes essentially excused Murphy from following established procedure and instead granted her request.

The case illustrates how important it is for employers to clearly communicate their FMLA policies to their employees.  More importantly, it points out how crucial it is for employers to train their supervisors on how to respond to FMLA requests.  When a supervisor’s poor response leads an employee to reasonably believe that his or her FMLA leave request has been granted, the employee will probably be entitled to take the time off even if the company could have denied the request.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.
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August 24, 2010

New MN health insurance law raises co-pay questions

Posted in Benefits, Health Insurance tagged , , , at 8:32 am by Tom Jacobson

Some Minnesota employers and employees have questioned the impact of a new state statute that addresses how co-pays and deductibles are handled by health care providers.  The new statute, which went into effect on August 1, says that health plan companies cannot prohibit providers from collecting deductibles and co-pays from patients at or prior to the time of service.

Although this new law may seem to allow the denial of service to patients who cannot or will not pay their deductible or co-pay on the spot, the law also protects patients.  This is because the law specifically says that providers may not withhold service to a health plan enrollee based on a patient’s failure to pay a deductible or coinsurance at or prior to the time of service.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

August 20, 2010

Tick tock, we’re on the clock; Qwest employees’ FLSA claims allowed to proceed

Posted in Fair Labor Standards Act, Hours Worked, Hours Worked, Overtime, Personnel Records, Record Keeping tagged , , , , , at 9:29 am by Tom Jacobson

A July 20, 2010 decision by the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota stresses how important it is for employers to understand when their employees are “on the clock” and are, therefore, entitled to be paid.  The case also stresses every employer’s responsibility to maintain accurate records of their employees’ work time.

At issue in the case were two Qwest policies designed to gauge its technicians’ performance.  According to the technicians, in order for them to succeed under the policies, they had to work outside their regularly scheduled work day (for example, by coming in early in order to do the things required by the policies).   Therefore, they argued that under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), they should have been paid for that time, including any  overtime.

Qwest argued that because the technicians chose to work the extra hours in order to meet the company’s performance standards, the company did not have to pay them for that extra time.  The Court disagreed, saying “[t]he reason an employee continues to work beyond his shift is immaterial; if the employer knows or has reason to believe that the employee continues to work, the additional hours must be counted.'”

Qwest also argued that it should not be liable for the extra time worked because the employees failed to report it on their time sheets.  The Court rejected this argument as well, noting that it is the employer’s burden to maintain accurate time records even when employees are responsible for recording their own hours on a time sheet.

A few extra minutes of  unpaid work time may not seem like a big deal.  However, when those few minutes are added to the work-days of multiple employees over time, the consequences of the resulting FLSA violations are enormous.  Therefore, employers must understand when their employees are “on the clock,” and they must maintain accurate records of that work time.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

August 10, 2010

Angry applicants & cranky candidates: Can temperament be a job qualification?

Posted in Color, Discrimination, Interviewing, National Origin, Race tagged , , , , , , , , , at 11:22 pm by Tom Jacobson

If an applicant who is minimally qualified for a job becomes agitated or otherwise shows bad temperament during the application process, can those personality traits be used as the reason to reject the candidate?  Consider the July 28, 2010 case of Amini v. City of Minneapolis.

Hamid Amini was a police officer candidate at the Minneapolis Police Department.  The hiring process at the MPD included oral and written examinations, fitness and psychological testing,  background checks, and interviews.  During an interview, Amini became agitated, argumentative, frustrated, and demanding.   Because of its concerns over Amini’s temperament, the City did not hire him.

Amini sued the city under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, claiming that he was discriminated against on the basis of his national origin, race, and color.  He also claimed race discrimination under 42 U.S.C. Section 1981.

The United States District Court for the District of Minnesota, Judge Donovan W. Frank presiding,  dismissed Amini’s lawsuit.  Judge Frank held that while Amini may have been minimally qualified for the job, the city’s reason for rejecting him (his apparent bad temperament) was a legitimate non-discriminatory reason.  Judge Frank also rejected Amini’s argument that the city’s reason was a pretext for discrimination.

While the Amini case reinforces the principle that an employee’s or applicant’s temperamant can be considered when making decisions about that person’s employment, personality traits should be considered with great caution.  Such traits tend to be subjective and are difficult to prove.  And, what might be an important personality trait in one job might be irrelevant in another.  Without solid evidence, relying on temperament may not be a good defense to a discrimination claim.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

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