FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) issues represents a substantial portion of the employment law work I perform for clients. FMLA claims are common due to employer mismanagement or misunderstanding of FMLA duties. Even large, Fortune 500 employers fail to properly administer FMLA leave. The employee seeking FMLA leave may suffer discrimination, harassment, interference with FMLA rights, or an outright denial of rights. The employee has the option of filing a complaint with the Department of Labor, filing a private lawsuit, or both. Today’s post will discuss some of the differences between those options.
Department of Labor FMLA complaint in Texas
Under FMLA, an employee may file a formal complaint with the Department of Labor alleging FMLA violations. This administrative complaint is then investigated by the DOL through the Wage and Hour Division. The investigator will investigate and issue a determination whether the DOL found sufficient evidence that a violation occurred. Often the DOL will try to negotiate a corrective measure with the employer. The DOL rarely, if ever, takes any more serious action on the part of employees.
An FMLA complaint to the Department of Labor can be useful for employees before any serious misconduct has occurred. If the employer interfered with an FMLA request but no further misconduct occurred then the DOL complaint may be useful. The FMLA complaint is free to file and the DOL will act on the complaint relatively quickly.
However, the administrative complaint is rarely useful when the situation has escalated to a termination, demotion, or a hostile work environment, because either the employee has requested FMLA leave or has received FMLA leave but upon return has faced a less than pleasant reception. In these cases, the employer tends to be unmotivated to voluntarily cooperate with the DOL. A lawsuit typically must be filed.
Filing a private FMLA lawsuit in Texas
The alternative approach for an employee is to file a lawsuit against the employer to enforce FMLA rights or to recover for some form of discrimination for requesting or receiving FMLA leave. Under FMLA, an employee has a two year statute of limitations to bring suit under FMLA. These lawsuits can seek a judicial order that the employer grant leave but given the length of time lawsuits take to reach resolution it rarely makes good use of the employee’s time and money to file such a suit.
The more common FMLA lawsuit involves claims that the employer discriminated against the employee for requesting or receiving FMLA leave. That discrimination may come in the form of termination, demotion, hostile work environment/harassment, loss of job duties, failure to promote, denial of employee benefits and similar forms of employment discrimination. These claims may include the employer improperly denied FMLA leave or interfered with the employee’s exercise of FMLA leave.
Are FMLA lawsuits better?
These claims tend to be a better fit for lawsuits because the employee has likely suffered long term loss of wages (or potential wages) along with the humiliation and injury to the employee’s career that comes along with employment discrimination. Those are all types of harm that can be quantified in dollars and the court can order the employer to pay that sum. In addition to lost income, the employee can also recover attorney fees and may be able to obtain punitive damages if the employee can prove the FMLA violation was willful.
It is not necessary to file an administrative FMLA complaint with the DOL before filing suit, although some plaintiffs first file an administrative complaint before contemplating a lawsuit. Many other employment discrimination laws require the administrative complaint but FMLA does not require it. The employee may file one or the other, or both.
The DOL determination will not weigh on the judicial determination of the employee’s claims; but the evidence accumulated by the DOL investigation may prove useful in litigation. It is advisable that an employee considering filing an FMLA lawsuit should first consult an employment lawyer before filing the administrative complaint to make sure the complaint process is strategically useful for a probable lawsuit.
Hiring an employment lawyer in Texas
If you believe your employer has violated your FMLA leave rights, you should review the FMLA information on the FMLA page on this website and then discuss your concerns with an employment lawyer. FMLA claims have a two year–sometimes three year statute of limitations for your employment lawyer to file a lawsuit. However, often you benefit from acting quicker, especially when your employer has not wrongfully terminated you for taking FMLA leave and there is an ongoing problem at work.