Manager bungled FMLA regulations, then fired worker

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

The courts are merciless when companies fail to respect an employee’s right to FMLA leave and FMLA regulations. Here’s a case where a supervisor misclassified FMLA leave as an absence and his company had to pay out a six-figure judgment.

“Joe, you’ve had too many absences where you failed to tell us you weren’t going to be here,” said logistics manager Dale Gray. “We need reliable workers. Otherwise we miss delivery deadlines. That’s bad for business. I’m afraid you’re fired.”

“What!” exclaimed Joe, a worker in the company’s shipping department. “I was out on medical leave. Haven’t you heard of the FMLA? You can’t fire me under FMLA regulations!”

“You’re supposed to notify us in advance when you’re going to take FMLA leave,” replied Dale. “But that never seems to happen with you, and all your colleagues end up working short-handed.”

Stress attack unforeseeable

“Dale, I had a stress attack several months ago and had to go to the emergency room,” said Joe. “How was I supposed to warn you in advance? And then you mistakenly recorded that day off as a regular absence when it was actually FMLA leave.”

“Whatever,” said Dale. “But then you took two days off to take your wife to the doctor.”

“I verbally requested that FMLA leave in advance,” said Joe.

“Only one day before you wanted to take it. You’re supposed to give written notice 30 days in advance. As you recall, we denied your request because we had several major shipments arriving those days, and we really needed you. But you took the leave anyway.”

Never posted the sign required by FMLA regulations

“I never even heard of that 30-day notice thing,” said Joe. “Is it posted somewhere in the building? Did you ever send me a hand-out explaining that?”

Dale wasn’t sure, so he held his tongue. “The bottom line, Joe, is that your performance isn’t all that great even when you’re here. If everybody doesn’t pull their weight, the company performance suffers, and I can’t let that happen.”

How the court ruled

Joe won his case and the company had to fork over $171,000. The supervisor made several mistakes.

  1. He counted Joe’s day off for his stress attack as a regular absence. The courts came down hard on him for that: “One of the purposes of FMLA regulations are to prevent an employer from considering a FMLA-protected absence in any way as a factor in a firing decision.” In this case, it looked as if that absence did influence the supervisor.
  2. He didn’t make sure the company had an FMLA notice posted in a public area at the office. Because of that, the court let Joe off the hook for taking his wife to the doctor without giving written 30-day notice. Is it your job as a supervisor to post such notices? Not really. But you can sure let HR know that it needs to get done to comply with FMLA regulations.
  3. He raised chronic absenteeism and performance issues as factors in the case against Joe. Fact is, he had no documentation for either, which discredited the company in the eyes of the court.

Taylor v. Invacare Corp., United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit. Nos. 01-3824, 01-3827, May 21, 2003.

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