When are terminations and demotions considered FMLA violation?

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

Employer prevails in FMLA violation of rights lawsuit

Worker would have been demoted had he not taken family medical leave.

While you may not demote an employee because he took FMLA leave, you may demote him as long as you can show that you would have done so had he not taken family medical leave.

Kicked to the curb, an FMLA violation

A full-time gas-station manager requested and was granted FMLA leave. When he returned to work he was told that he’d been demoted to the role of part-time pump attendant.

Rather than accept the lower-paying part-time job, he quit and then filed a lawsuit, claimingFMLA violation.

Under FMLA, an employee who takes a medical leavemust be reinstated to the same job or to an equivalent job at the same pay.

However, taking a medical leave confers no special rights on employees, as the judge in this case pointed out.

Showing a business need

In court, the employer showed that while the manager was on his FMLA leave, it conducted an audit of all of its gas stations.

According to the audit, the manager’s station was unprofitable and its owners decided to put it up for sale – along with a couple of others.

During the sale process, the station no longer needed a full-time manager.

The manager lost his case because his employer showed plenty of evidence that he’d have been demoted regardless of whether he took FMLA leave, which does not count as FMLA violation.

After all, no one else got his old job, and the employer showed a legitimate business reason for making its decision.

Cite: Sylvester v. Dead River Co.

You intended to fire worker just before he took leave: An FMLA violation?

Can you fire him the day he gets back? In some cases, yes

An employer planned to fire a worker, but hesitated just long enough for the person to announce he was taking FMLA leave. He was dismissed the day he returned and sued, claiming FMLA violation.

And he lost. This case underscores the employer’s rights under FMLA.

FMLA Violation: Dismissal was proper

Gabriel Ahmarani worked as a plant manager at a manufacturing operation. A big part of his job was his daily meetings with the company’s president and its controller. From early in Ahmarani’s employment the two executives were displeased with the plant manager’s communication style and attitude.

The company president wanted to fire Ahmarani, but the controller persuaded him to give Ahmarani another chance. And another. Finally, both execs agreed that Ahmarani had to go. They went to HR with their decision, documenting their discussions about Ahmarani’s employment and the actions they took to dismiss him. But before they could pull the trigger, Ahmarani took leave.

In court, the documents made it easy for the company to prove that the decision to terminate was reached before Ahmarani announced his FMLA leave.

In its decision, the court noted that any employee who takes FMLA leave shall be entitled to be restored to the position held prior to leave or to an equivalent position. But that doesn’t entitle an employee to anything he would have had if he hadn’t taken leave, which protected the company from being accused of FMLA violation.

Ahmarani may have thought that his job could be saved by the FMLA. But he was wrong. It was evident that had he not taken leave he’d have been fired.

Cite: Ahmarani v. Sieling & Jones, Inc., U.S. District Court, District of Maryland, No. JFM-01-2408, 7/25/02.

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