The investigation by the division's Little Rock District Office found that the company violated the FMLA when it considered the eligible employee's absence due to an FMLA-qualifying serious health condition as a negative employment factor and, consequently, terminated the employee. Because of the illegal termination, the employee lost wages and benefits and incurred significant health care costs.
"The FMLA allows for the workplace flexibility today's employees and their families need," said Cynthia Watson, regional administrator for the Wage and Hour Division in the Southwest. "Especially with the recent release of new FMLA regulations, this case should serve as an opportunity for other employers to ensure that their FMLA policies comply with the law. The Wage and Hour Division is committed to protecting employees' rights and to educating employers. No one should have to choose between their job and their health, or the health of their family."
In addition to paying back wages, Sparks Regional Medical Center, which employs more than 1,865 associates in Fort Smith and Van Buren, has agreed to comply with the requirements of the FMLA in the future. Parent company, Naples, Fla.-based Health Management Associates Inc., employs approximately 40,500 workers at 70 branches in 15 states.
Since 1993, the FMLA has been a major component in the department's effort to promote work-family balance, providing workplace protections for those living with a serious health condition, or caring for a covered family member with a serious health condition. The FMLA helps to ease the burden that can come with needing time away from work when faced with such an illness.
The FMLA entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in a 12-month period for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave. Under certain circumstances, military leave entitlements under the FMLA allow eligible employees up to 26 weeks of leave.
Under the FMLA, an employer is prohibited from interfering with, restraining or denying the exercise of-or the attempt to exercise-any FMLA right. Employers also are prohibited from discriminating or retaliating against an employee or prospective employee for having exercised or attempted to exercise any FMLA right. Specifically, an employer may not use an employee's request for or use of FMLA leave as a negative factor in employment actions, such as hiring, promotions or disciplinary procedures.
For more information about the FMLA and other federal wage laws, call the Wage and Hour Division's toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243) or the division's Little Rock District Office.