St. Luke’s found to have violated federal employment law

St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center — the health system’s Treasure Valley operation — was found to have systemic violations of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, the U.S. Department of Labor said Wednesday.

After the department’s Wage and Hour Division investigated, St. Luke’s “immediately remedied the violations,” the department said.

“Employers want to do the right thing, and they want to make sure they’re abiding by federal standards,” Thomas Silva, district director for the Wage and Hour Division in Portland, said in an interview. “The times when they’re out of compliance, they may not understand what the requirements are or they’re listening to other people who may not understand.”

Silva emphasized that St. Luke’s “was very cooperative.”

Here is what happened, according to St. Luke’s spokeswoman Beth Toal:

▪  An employee filed a complaint April 30, 2015, alleging her time off was not coded as FMLA-protected.

▪  The U.S. Department of Labor “reviewed hundreds of records” from the preceding two years and interviewed managers and employees.

▪  The department and St. Luke’s “entered into an agreement” on Nov. 6 that required St. Luke’s Health System to make “some procedural changes” regarding notifications about FMLA eligibility; to provide FMLA training to managers; and to pay the employee who filed the complaint $1,226, which St. Luke’s had done in May 2015.

The employer corrected all administrative errors, potentially affecting approximately 13,000 employees throughout the state.

U.S. Department of Labor

St. Luke’s “failed to ensure that all employees on FMLA-covered leave received all the protections due to them under the law,” according to the department.

A news release said St. Luke’s failed to maintain employees’ benefits while they were on FMLA leave and did not ensure that employees were reinstated to the jobs they previously held or to equivalent positions when they returned to work.

The FMLA gives employees legal protections so they can take unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons, without having to worry about losing their jobs or their health insurance benefits during that leave.

[St. Luke’s] has a strong policy protecting employees for the use of FMLA and that policy protects employees against retaliation for the exercise of their rights.

Beth Toal, St. Luke’s vice president of communications and marketing

Silva said he cannot disclose whether the investigation arose because of a complaint or was the result of a “directed” case, initiated by his office.

“This resolution provides piece of mind for employees of St. Luke’s and their families who rely upon the FMLA’s critical workplace flexibility and protections,” Silva said in the news release. “We are very pleased that this employer took immediate action to ensure that employees receive all the benefits they are entitled to under the FMLA. Workers should never have to choose between their jobs and their health.”

Audrey Dutton: 208-377-6448, @IDS_Audrey