One of the greatest challenges for employers at the start of the pandemic was keeping up with the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (FFCRA). When it was signed into law in March of 2020, the two new leaves it introduced sparked many questions. Ambiguous language, confusing requirements, and an uncertain expiration date made compliance challenging.
These obligations came at a time when employers were facing extraordinary operational and financial obstacles. With little guidance and time to react, many employment decisions were rushed. These factors created a perfect storm for leave law violations.
According to Seyfarth’s Annual Workplace Class Action Litigation Report, at least 1,000 COVID-related workplace lawsuits were filed in 2020 across 47 states and 28 industries. Leave claims were the third key driver of litigation, behind failure to provide a safe working environment, and discrimination.
From the Courtroom
A Florida woman sued her employer, America’s Insurance Associates, for denial of her paid leave rights under the FFCRA. She claims she was placed on an unpaid leave of absence for staying home to care for her child whose school was closed due to COVID.
Home Expressions Inc., an NJ-based home goods wholesaler, was faced with a lawsuit when they forced an employee to return to the office after initially allowing her to work from home. The employee alleges they failed to provide her with an explanation of her rights.
In Virginia federal court, a case was filed against Gala North America, a candle distributor. A worker claims he was terminated after reporting his COVID diagnosis to his manager and requesting time off to recover.
These are just a few examples of the types of leave law claims being filed. Violations stem from employees alleging they were not provided the leave they were entitled to, not informed of their rights, or retaliated against for requesting leave.
The True Cost of Leave Law Violations
According to the Department of Labor (DOL), failure to comply with the FFCRA carries the same penalties described in Section 16 and 17 of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Employers who willfully or repeatedly violate the Act may be fined up to $10,000 per infraction. Second convictions can impose $10,000 and/or imprisonment up to 6 months.
If that sounds extreme and unlikely, there are more realistic consequences to consider…
Even if the case is dismissed, the employer is still out the legal fees and the time it took to resolve.
Furthermore, the claim could negatively impact morale and employment relationships.
One claim could open the floodgates. When an employee files a complaint, the DOL will conduct a full investigation which may include an examination of employment practices beyond the initial complaint.
In some circumstances, managers and supervisors may be held personally liable for paying damages.
The FFCRA expired at the end of 2020. Employers who were in a position to ensure compliance should consider themselves lucky. Even though the leaves are no longer required, employers should adopt these best practices to ensure future leave law compliance.
- Make sure policies are up to date with current and applicable employment laws
- Establish and communicate a process for employees to request leave
- Provide required notices to employees
- Train supervisors and managers on the laws and procedures
- Utilize time and labor software to track leave accruals
- Maintain good documentation
- Secure a competent HR resource who knows the law
Avoid Being a Statistic
Download Our Guide to Avoiding COVID-Related Lawsuits
COVID-related litigation may prove more damaging to business than anything employers have dealt with so far. Lawsuits are being filed fast and furiously and will be a threat in 2021 and beyond. In this guide we examine four trending areas of litigation and the actions you can take today to avoid being a statistic.