“You’ve already been absent twenty times this year,” supervisor Wendy Calvin told Ben Alexander.
“I really want to come to work,” said Ben. “But I get these bouts of Crohn’s disease frequently, and the cramps are so bad I can’t function.”
“I understand, Ben,” said Wendy. “I really do sympathize. The good news is that your illness is covered by the FMLA, and you have every legal right to take leave. The bad news is that we have policies here, and one of them is that you have to fill out FMLA forms in advance in order to take the leave. You never completed the healthcare provider’s certification form.”
“You think I’m faking my disease?” said Ben.
“No, of course not,” said Wendy. “It’s just that everybody else in the company, except for you, fills out the FMLA forms when they take a family medical leave. I’ve already warned you about the issue three times.”
Ben said he’d complete his FMLA forms, but didn’t. He took several more days off during the next couple of months. Wendy even sent him additional FMLA forms with instructions for how to fill them out attached.
Finally, Ben handed in the FMLA forms. However, they were filled out incorrectly. Wendy gave him one final warning, which he didn’t heed. So she fired him.
Ben sued for violation of his FMLA rights.
How the court ruled
Surprise! Ben won his case.
Bottom line: The courts protect people who have legitimate reasons to take FMLA leave, and they won’t let you off the hook just because someone screws up his FMLA forms.
We’ve emphasized before that it’s up to the employer, not the employee, to recognize what qualifies for FMLA leave and what does not.
By the same token, the courts expect companies to bend over backwards to help employees complete their FMLA forms correctly.
In this case Wendy did her part, but the courts said that it wasn’t enough.
Cite: Jiminez v. Velcro USA, Inc., U.S. District Court, New Hampshire.
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