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She Was Fired After Getting COVID. Then She Called the Department of Labor.

Anna Friar standing with her husband.

Anna Friar had worked more than seven years as a kitchen assistant manager and cook at Willowbrook Assisted Living in Lake City, Florida, when she became seriously ill from COVID-19.  Her husband, Billy, also tested positive, and between her own illness and caring for him, Anna was unable to work for more than six weeks.She notified her employer immediately and provided regular updates on their condition. 

Within five days of her COVID-19 diagnosis, Anna’s administrator called to say she was no longer “a good fit” for the facility and terminated her employment. After seven years of positive performance reviews and loyalty to the company, the termination stunned Anna, who contacted the Wage and Hour Division once she recovered from her illness.

We launched an investigation into the company’s failure to offer job-protected leave and found Anna should have been offered unpaid leave and job protection for the time she dealt with COVID. The Family and Medical Leave Act requires covered employers to offer eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to seek treatment and recover from a serious health condition. With more than 50 employees at its two Lake City facilities, Willowbrook Assisted Living is a covered employer, and Anna was entitled to FMLA leave because she had worked at least 1,250 hours at Willowbrook in the 12 months before her COVID-19 diagnosis and received continuing treatment from a health-care provider.  

Investigators also reviewed Willowbrook’s pay practices to determine compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act and determined the company had not paid Anna and another employee their rightful overtime pay, in violation of the FLSA.

In addition to overtime wages, the Wage and Hour Division recovered the wages Anna would have earned if she had been restored to her position after her family and medical leave, as required by the FMLA.

Anna received $7,233 in back wages at a time when life had decided to give her family a more difficult trial.

“We were able to help our grandchildren after suddenly losing our son in a car accident,” Anna said. “This money helped us get caught back up and get our lives back in order. The investigator was very knowledgeable, compassionate and willing to help.” 

Anna had already begun working at another care facility by the time the investigation concluded, but thanks to her willingness to step forward, future workers will find an updated FMLA policy at Willowbrook Assisted Living, and the company has agreed to comply with FMLA and FLSA requirements in the future. 

For more information about the protections of the FMLA and FLSA, workers and employers can  visit our website or call us confidentially. We can speak with callers in more than 200 languages through the agency’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243).

Robert Vaden is a community outreach and resource planning specialist for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.-  Follow the Wage and Hour Division on Twitter at @WHD_DOL.

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