FMLA guidelines require accurate performance documentation prior to termination

Supervisor Steve Krebbs had planned to terminate Pete Wentworth on Friday afternoon. But midweek he collapsed and needed open-heart surgery, which put him out of work for months.

That put Steve in a bind. He had no choice but to grant Pete FMLA leave.

When Pete returned to work 12 weeks later expecting to be placed in the same or an equivalent position, he was fired instead.

“You’re firing me because I had to take an FMLA leave,” he accused Steve.

“That’s not true,” Steve replied. “I’d planned to let you go the same week you had your heart attack.”

“But I just had a performance appraisal, and you never said I was having problems.”

“Look, I’m sorry, but business is bad, and I can only keep my best people”.

Peter sued the company for violating FMLA guidelines.

Did he win?

Yes. A jury awarded Pete over $60,000 in damages. And a court of appeals upheld this award, ruling there was convincing evidence that the company made the firing decision while Peter was on leave.

The company lost this case for several reasons.

  • Performance appraisals didn’t indicate that Pete was falling short of company expectations.
  • There was no documentation showing that after the appraisals there had been any warning that Pete would be terminated.
  • The termination documentation lacked any indication as to when it was completed.

All three of these points made it appear that Pete was fired for taking leave per FMLA guidelines.

What this case reinforces, of course, is the need for complete and accurate performance- appraisal documentation.

Every appraisal should clearly outline the employee’s true job performance. If you gloss over problems just to be kind or to make the appraisal process easier, the documents will be useless if you later need to terminate the employee.

Cite:Nero v. Industrial Molding.

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