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Damages under the Family and Medical Leave Act

Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 Overview

Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) to provide most American employees with the ability to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for certain family and medical purposes. The FMLA also provides that at the conclusion of their leave periods, most employees are entitled to be restored to the positions they left at the time their leave was commenced.

Before passing the FMLA, Congress determined that most American families had both parents working and that it was important to allow parents to care for their young children and employees to care for seriously ill family members. Events triggering FMLA rights include the birth or adoption of a child, the serious illness of a family member, or a medical emergency with the employee.

FMLA Damages

Employers who do not comply with the requirements of the FMLA or who retaliate against employees who exercise their rights under the FMLA are liable to the affected employees for:

  • Any wages, salary, employment benefits, or other compensation denied or lost to the employee because of the violation
  • Any actual monetary losses sustained by the employee as a direct result of the violation if compensation was not denied to the employee
  • The interest on any above damages owed
  • An additional amount as liquidated damages (also called double damages) equal to the sum of the above damage amounts, unless the employer shows that it acted in good faith and that it had reasonable grounds to believe that its act or omission was not a FMLA violation.
  • Appropriate equitable relief, like reinstatement or promotion

Recent Court Analysis

In a recent case before a federal circuit court of appeals, the employer, which had violated the FMLA, paid the employee the full back pay owed prior to the trial. Consequently, the employer sought to escape liability for double damages by arguing that the compensation had not been “denied” to the employee. The district court agreed with the employer.

On appeal, the appellate court reversed that portion of the district court’s decision, ruling that temporarily lost wages that are restored prior to trial, but after a significant delay, are “lost or denied” for purposes of calculating liquidated damages under the FMLA. If that were not the case, the court stated, employers that wrongfully denied wages could escape liquidated damages liability by simply restoring the lost wages any time before trial. The court also noted that the ruling was in accord with the purpose of liquidated damages under the FMLA, which was to compensate employees for damages stemming from the delay in receiving wages due caused by an employer’s FMLA violation.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.

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