Recent ruling in Pennsylvania means managers can be liable for FMLA violations. Here is the story:

Need a new way to get managers to understand the stakes involved in following Family and Medical Leave Act rules? Try this: If they screw up the FMLA process, they can be held personally liable.

That’s the message out of a recent appeals court ruling in Pennsylvania, in which a judge ruled that a supervisor in the Lawrence County probation department may be subject to individual liability under the FMLA.

The case centers on Debra Haybarger, who’d worked for 13 years as an office manager for the probation department before she began reporting to William Mancino, the agency’s director.

Haybarger suffered from a number of ailments — diabetes, heart and kidney disease — and missed work repeatedly to deal with her conditions. Mancino, while acknowledging her medical difficulties, wasn’t pleased.

Mancino repeatedly wrote in his annual performance evaluations that Haybarger needed “(to) improve her overall health and cut down on the days that she misses due to illness.”

Haybarger testified that he asked her why she breathed heavily and why she needed to visit the doctor so often, and advised her that she needed to “start taking better care of (her)self.”

‘Lack of leadership’ alleged

Later, Mancino formally disciplined Haybarger by placing her on a six-month probationary period. In his notice, he said that Haybarger’s “conduct, work ethic, and behavior (were) non-conducive to the (probation department operation),” that she demonstrated a “lack of leadership,” and showed “a lack of  empathy to subordinate workers.”

At the end of the probationary period, Mancino went to his boss and recommended that Haybarger be fired.

After her termination, Haybarger sued on several grounds. Eventually, the parties agreed on a settlement, but one issue remained: whether or not Mancino could be held personally responsible for an alleged violation of FMLA rules.

A district court said no. But the appeals court reversed.

The technical explanation of the court’s ruling is this: In order to be held liable under the law, a manager must be acting as “employer” — “when he or she exercises ‘supervisory authority over the complaining employee and was responsible in whole or part for the alleged violation’ while acting in the employer’s interest,” the judge wrote.

Mancino fit that criteria, the court ruled. And now the case goes back to district court to decide whether the manager actually violated the FMLA.

For tips on how to keep yourself protected, read the whole story here: