Company loses fight over FMLA paperwork

by on March 3, 2010 · 1 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Absent worker didn’t fill out his FMLA paperwork, but won lawsuit

Before you terminate an employee for excessive absenteeism, make sure he has every opportunity to clear up deficiencies on his medical leave certification. And remember: even his failure to turn in FMLA paperwork doesn’t necessarily allow you to fire him.

That’s right: You can’t rely on technicalities when it comes to FMLA regulations. Here’s the story of one employer who learned that lesson the hard way.

They knew about his condition

Alex Jiminez was absent from work about twenty times during the year 2000. The reason: constant flare-ups of Crohn’s disease, a chronic gastrointestinal condition. Jiminez’s employer, Velcro USA, knew about his medical condition (it had been documented in previous years). There was never any question of whether he was faking.

Velcro’s HR director counseled Jiminez regarding his FMLA rights. He was given FMLA paperwork to complete. The form required a health care provider’s certification.

But Jiminez didn’t complete the FMLA paperwork. Maybe he was simply procrastinating; or maybe he didn’t want to go to the doctor. Whatever his reasons, he received numerous warnings, both verbally and in writing. The warnings were clear: Complete your FMLA paperwork or your absences won’t count as medical leave and you’ll be discharged for excessive absenteeism.

He simply couldn’t get his FMLA paperwork together

The company didn’t want to fire Jiminez. It simply wanted to enforce its absenteeism policy even-handedly.

Over the next several months, Jiminez took many more days off, but he didn’t complete the FMLA paperwork. HR sent him another form. And another.

Jiminez said that he was looking for a new doctor, and he needed more time. His employer agreed to wait. It even sent him another form with written instructions and an offer to help him complete the FMLA paperwork.

At last, Jiminez presented certification. Unfortunately, it wasn’t filled out correctly: The doctor hadn’t written in the right treatment dates. Jiminez was given one more chance to complete the FMLA paperwork.

Finally, after receiving numerous warnings, after being given chance after chance to complete his FMLA paperwork properly, he was discharged for excessive absenteeism.

Not surprisingly, Jiminez sued his employer, claiming it had violated his rights under FMLA.

Get the employee in compliance

Velcro went to court confident that the judge would toss the case. After all, Jiminez had failed to submit a health care provider’s certification for his absences. FMLA regulations required certification – as did company policy.

Jiminez argued that because the firm was well aware of his condition, he hadn’t needed to file a certification in order to be approved for FMLA leave. The law was intended to protect people with illnesses, not punish people who couldn’t fill out FMLA paperwork properly.

In its ruling, the court agreed with Jiminez, suggesting that because Velcro already knew that Jiminez had a chronic disease, it should have escalated its efforts to help him complete the forms, not fire him because his FMLA paperwork was deficient.

Lesson learned

This case shows that you can’t legally fire an employee because he isn’t in compliance with FMLA regulations. Instead, an employer’s responsibility in such a case should be to make sure the employee gets compliant. In this case, additional counseling and mentoring would probably have worked.

Cite: Jiminez v. Velcro USA, Inc., U.S. District Court, New Hampshire, No. 2002 DNH 52, 3/4/02.

1 Comment on This Post

  1. Uniquesamuel
    October 18, 2010 - 3:19 pm

    what if you had informed your employer of your condition, under doctors orders, had to take 2 weeks off, and never even heard, seen, or asked to fill out an FMLA form until you had already spent the off time bringing in doctors notes, including one saying youre all clear to go back to work?

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