FLSA’s “Willful” Standard Applies to FMLA.


The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the definition of “willful” violations under the Fair Labor Standards Act should be applied to the Family and Medical Leave Act, which does not define the term.

In Olson v. United States of America, the employee brought a claim for interference with her rights under the FMLA, based on her employer’s admitted failure to provide her notice of such rights. She alleged the violation was willful, which is significant because willful violations are subject to a three-year statute of limitations (meaning the period in which a lawsuit can be brought) while a two-year limitations period applies to those that are not willful.

Because “willful” is not defined under the FMLA, the Ninth Circuit adopted the definition of “willful” under the Fair Labor Standards Act, joining a number of sister circuits in doing so. Under the FLSA, which has a similarly-structured statute of limitations provision, “the employer must know, or show reckless disregard for, whether its conduct was prohibited by the statute.” The Ninth Circuit further found that, based on a number of factors, including the employer’s consultation with its legal department regarding the employee’s status, no willful violation existed here that would trigger the three-year statute of limitations. And because the employee did not meet the two-year period, her FMLA claims were barred.