In addition to paying former billing coordinator Allison Blair in two installments of $22,500 each, Tenafly Pediatrics must comply with several non-monetary conditions of settlement. Those conditions include the conspicuous posting of an employee’s rights and obligations under the New Jersey Family Leave Act, and thorough training of the practice’s supervisors, managers and human resources personnel in both state and federal family leave law. As a condition of settlement Tenafly Pediatrics, which operates six locations in northern New Jersey, also has provided Blair a letter of reference.
Blair was fired from her job in late March 2014 after a nine-day absence, during which she helped care for her terminally ill father in the last days of his life and attended his funeral. Upon returning from her time away, she received a letter from Tenafly Pediatrics advising that she was no longer employed due to her “unexcused” absence.
Before leaving to tend to her father, Blair had notified her supervisors by telephone of her plans, and also told them of her intention to claim the time under the Family Leave Act. However, her employer maintained that she’d failed to follow proper procedures and protocols.
Among other things, Blair was told she’d failed to complete certain “paperwork” required to qualify for family leave. The paperwork reference was apparently to a state FL-1 form. The FL-1 is submitted to an employer so an employee can file for family leave insurance benefits with the New Jersey Department of Labor. However, a completed FL-1 is not required by law before family leave can begin. Verbal notification of impending absence is sufficient (and Blair did complete the FL-1 form.)
“This settlement represents a fair and just resolution — not only because of its financial terms, but because of the provisions it contains that will promote greater awareness of, and compliance with, our state’s family leave laws,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman.
“An employee should not have to be forced to choose between keeping his or her job and tending to the serious health condition of a family member,” Division Director Craig T. Sashihara said. “New Jersey’s family leave laws were created to maintain the integrity of the family unit, and our commitment is to ensure that employers respect and adhere to those laws.”
Blair had been employed by Tenafly Pediatrics as a billing coordinator for slightly more than seven years when her father was diagnosed with a terminal illness in February 2014. At the time, she informed her two supervisors of her father’s grave condition, and advised them that she anticipated needing to take family leave at some point to be with him.
On March 18, 2014, she was contacted by her stepmother and asked to come to New York to help care for her father. That call triggered the sequence of events that ultimately led to Blair’s dismissal.
Under the settlement announced today, Tenafly Pediatrics admits to no wrongdoing or liability.
Tenafly contended throughout the Division’s investigation that not only had Blair failed to provide proper paperwork in support of her family leave claim, but that she’d already exhausted her normal paid leave time when she abruptly announced plans to absent herself in March 2014. Blair’s former employer also noted that she’d received written warnings for certain workplace infractions and that, while away, she failed to keep in touch with her supervisors.
In a Finding of Probable Cause issued after its investigation was complete, however, the Division held that, because Blair was entitled under the law to take family leave, her prior attendance record and any disciplinary matters “had no bearing.”