TGI Fridays Busted for Family Leave Violations
The leave policy of TGI Fridays violates the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the popular restaurant chain has agreed to change its company-wide policy and pay one employee back wages, according to the the Department of Labor (DOL).
The DOL announced the company’s agreement on Aug. 7, following an investigation of a TGI Fridays restaurant in Shreveport, La. There, an employee took FMLA-covered leave but the company didn’t reinstate the employee to the same or equivalent position, as required by the law.
Also, the investigation revealed that the employee wasn’t allowed to return to work immediately following the leave. That delay cost the employee three weeks of pay, or $1,455, which the company, a subsidiary of Minnesota-based Carlson Companies, was required to pay.
The DOL also found that TGI Fridays had been failing to notify workers of their FMLA rights, including military family leave provisions and information on the right to take FMLA-covered leave on an intermittent or reduced schedule basis. The company’s policy also misstated the 12-month employment requirement for FMLA eligibility as being 12 continuous months, according to DOL.
Under the FMLA, employees can to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in a 12-month period for specified family and medical reasons, and not lose their benefits. Military family leave allows up to 26 weeks of leave. Only employers with more than 50 employees must comply with the law.
DOL Is Watching
While the EEOC polices discrimination in the workplace, the DOL enforces other types of protections for employees. The DOL’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) investigates FMLA complaints by workers, for instance
“If violations cannot be resolved, the Department of Labor may bring an action in court to compel compliance,” explains Anna Cohen, an employment lawyer with Epstein Becker Green in New York. “An employee may also file a private action against an employer for violations.”
In this case, it appears that while the initial complaint was likely made by the employee who was denied immediate reinstatement after taking protected leave, the DOL’s investigation uncovered problems with the way the restaurant was notifying its employees of their rights under the FMLA.
Under the FMLA, according to Cohen, employers must:
- post, in conspicuous places, a notice explaining the Act’s provisions and provide information concerning the procedures for filing complaints with the WHD
- include the notice in employee handbooks or other written guidance to employees when they are hired
- notify employees of their eligibility to take FMLA leave within five business days once a request is made
- explain to employees taking leave their rights and responsibilities including their specific expectations and obligations and any consequences of failing to meet them
- notify employees in writing whether or not the leave will actually be counted as FMLA leave
“As a general rule, it is important for employers to ensure that their FMLA policies and procedures are in compliance with the law,” Cohen points out.
FMLA Complaints Down
FMLA complaints have dropped off slightly in recent years, according to Printing Industries of America, which tracks DOL enforcement statistics. The WHD had promised to focus on enforcing labor laws in low-wage industries, according to an HR exec at Printing Industries, and the agency is keeping that promise.
The number of FMLA complaint cases wrapped up by the agency declined by 556 in 2012, and violations declined by 382. The year 2010 saw the most recent peak of cases at 2,319, but by 2012, the number of cases had dropped to 1,723.
“Various causes could be attributed to the decline,” Printing Industries of America’s Jim Kyger said in a press release. “For example, an improvement in the economy means employees are less fearful of their job and thus are less likely to make a complaint in order to seek job protections.”
“[E]mployers are getting better compliance,” Kyger added, “and/or better screening by the Department of Labor of complaints as they come in.”