Forcing employees out after FMLA leave: Attempts to weasel around FMLA law

by on January 14, 2010 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

It’s against FMLA law to terminate or mistreat an employee because of their FMLA leave. Here are a couple of instances—both employer and employee victories—where employers have attempted to cut the FMLA fat, without violating FMLA law.

FMLA law violation costs $11.65 million

When a worker took FMLA leave, his employer tried to pressure him back to work by establishing new performance standards he couldn’t possibly meet while on leave. What’s more, the standards, enforced unevenly for others, were strictly enforced against him.

Instead of motivating the worker to return to work, the new deal provoked him to sue for violations of FMLA law. A jury said the employer intentionally inflicted emotional distress. It awarded the employee $11.65 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

Cite: Schultz v. Advocate Health and Hospitals Corp., U.S. District Court, N.D. Ill., Eastern Division, No. 01 C 702, 6/4/02.

Employee’s transfer seemed against FMLA law

Court said employer’s reasons were ‘questionable’

Transferring an employee months after she returns from FMLA leave? You’d better cross your t’s and dot your i’s. If she takes the transfer as a slap in the face and files an FMLA law suit against the company, claiming the move was in retaliation for the leave, you won’t want to stumble over those dreaded “mixed motives” in court.

Katie English worked as a clerk in a hospital’s radiology department.

Unfortunately, she was in a serious car accident and was forced to take FMLA leave. Upon returning from leave, she was transferred to the mammography department due to staffing needs. But several months later, she was transferred to a position as a records transporter – a job that required heavy lifting.

English told her boss she couldn’t perform the heavy lifting. She was given six months to find another position at the hospital; she applied for six jobs, but was turned down each time. Finally, she was fired. Then she sued her employer for violations of FMLA law.

English won because the hospital didn’t make as compelling a case for the second transfer as it did for the first. The court called the reasons for the second transfer “questionable.” Several supervisors had been overheard making disparaging comments about English’s FMLA leave. That helped sway the court, too.

This case shows that even three months and two transfers won’t distance an employer from its legal obligations under FMLA law.

Cite: English v. Baptist Healthcare System, Inc., U.S. District Court, District of Kentucky at Louisville, No. 3:01CV-92-H, 1/22/03.

Firm accused of violating FMLA law

A worker who returned from medical leave to discover more duties thrust upon her lost her FMLA job-restoration claim.

While she was on leave, two of her plant’s production lines were consolidated. When she returned to work, she had new tasks requiring an extra 20 minutes a day. She received the same pay and benefits as before.

In reaching its decision, the court noted she would have been assigned the additional tasks even if she had not taken FMLA leave. The company had not violated FMLA law.

Cite: Mitchell v. Dutchmen Mfg.

Court: Company did not violate FMLA law

Here’s a reminder that under FMLA law, employees returning from FMLA leave are entitled to no special privileges.

When an employee came back from FMLA leave, she got a raise and was allowed to work just 40 hours a week, which she had requested.

But she also learned that her VP wanted to fire her. She felt micromanaged and was often uninformed about department meetings. Three weeks after returning from leave, she resigned and filed an FMLA law suit.

But the employer won this case. The judge said this didn’t add up to a clear case of someone being driven from her job, and that a reasonable employee would have attempted to resolve her concerns before giving up.

Cite: Haley v. Alliance Compressor.

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