COLUMBIA, S.C. — Jeffrey Angstadt didn't want days off to relax. In September 2010 and over the months that followed, the furniture sales executive told his employer, Staples Contract and Commercial, Inc., a subsidiary of Staples, Inc., that he needed to take leave to care for his critically ill wife. While Angstadt was eligible for federal workplace protections for those coping with the illness of a family member, no one at Staples notified him as the law requires.
For the next two years, Angstadt used his personal, sick and vacation days, and worked remotely as needed to balance his work obligations and to care for his wife.
In January 2012, his supervisors decided Angstadt wasn't meeting his job responsibilities, and the company fired him. Angstadt found himself without an income and critical health benefits when both were needed the most. Two months later, an investigation began by the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division district office in Columbia.
Following the investigation, the department then sued Staples in June 2013 for violating the Family and Medical Leave Act in its failure to inform Angstadt of his rights.
As part of a settlement agreement reached with Staples Inc. and Staples Contract and Commercial Inc., the Staples defendants have agreed to pay Angstadt $137,500 in lost wages and benefits, plus an equal amount in liquidated damages. The agreement was reached in a consent decree approved by a federal court.
"When an employee must be away from work to care for a loved one, there are no second chances to get it right," said Wage and Hour Division Administrator Dr. David Weil. "For more than 20 years, the Family and Medical Leave Act has been a critical safety net for working families. It ensures that no one should have to choose between the job they need and the family they love."
"This case shows the department's strong commitment to that principle, and our intention to use all enforcement tools at our disposal, including litigation, to uphold FMLA protections for workers and make sure that all employers operate in compliance with the law and get it right the first time," added Weil.
Angstadt's wife died in 2014.
As a part of the settlement, the company will also promote an enterprise-wide policy for compliance with the FMLA by providing training for human resources and other managerial personnel with respect to FMLA notice and eligibility requirements; post FMLA enforcement posters in the workplace; and investigate and respond to complaints of potential FMLA violations concerning an employee's notice of FMLA rights, including correcting violations when discovered.
Timeline of Key Events:
- March 2007: Angstadt starts work as market manager for Corporate Express in Miami.
- July 2008: Staples purchases Corporate Express.
Angstadt continues work as market manager for Staples.
- March 2009: Angstadt transferred to Staples Contract and Commercial's Columbia office.
- September 2010: Angstadt first informed Staples of his desire to take leave to care for wife.
- March 2011: Angstadt selected as a furniture sales executive.
- January 2012: Angstadt is fired.
- March 2012: Wage and Hour Division begins investigation.
- June 2013: Labor Department files suit in U.S. District Court for District of South Carolina.
- May 2015: District Court approves consent decree with the parties' settlement agreement.
The case was litigated by the department's Regional Office of the Solicitor in Atlanta.
Staples Contract and Commercial, Inc. offers business supplies to Fortune 1000 organizations as a subsidiary of Staples, Inc.
An employer is prohibited from interfering with, restraining or denying the exercise of, or the attempt to exercise, any FMLA right. Prohibited conduct includes failing to notify an employee of his or her rights under the FMLA when aware that the employee is taking FMLA-qualifying leave. Information on the FMLA is available on the Wage and Hour Division's website at http://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/index.htm.