Employer cries FMLA abuse: 'He misused his medical leave'

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

Dan Blaise guessed that the meeting upon his return to work after his FMLA leave would be pretty routine. He was stunned when his boss Barbara Johnson and HR manager Fran Forman explained that he was being fired for FMLA abuse.

Dan insisted that he had committed no such FMLA abuse. He had taken leave for a few days to care for his father, who’d undergone ankle surgery.

Dan’s father had moved in with Dan for three days immediately following his surgery. Dan stayed home to help.

Was working on his sprinkler system FMLA abuse?

“I was caring for my father, and that was why I wasn’t at work,” Dan insisted. “You can’t fire me for that.”

Barbara surprised Dan. She told him that he’d been under surveillance the entire time he was on leave. Indeed, investigators for the company had kept an eye on Dan while he was supposed to be caring for his father.

“You were seen working on your home’s sprinkler system for several hours each day,” said Barbara. “You weren’t caring for him, which, under the FMLA, is abuse.

Dan shrugged. “Well, my dad didn’t need around-the-clock care, you know,” he said. “If that’s FMLA abuse, you should have told me. I didn’t know. No one told me the FMLA rules.”

Barbara continued. “Your father left your house on Tuesday afternoon.”

“Right,” Dan agreed.

“But you didn’t return to work on Wednesday.”

“I stayed at home that day to care for my pregnant wife. That’s covered by FMLA, isn’t it?” he asked hopefully.

“Yes,” said Barbara. “But unfortunately you were seen playing golf for several hours that day.”

Dan shrugged. And with that, he was dismissed from his job for FMLA abuse.

Dan filed a lawsuit claiming that his employer had violated his FMLA rights.

Did he win?

The decision

No. Dan lost his lawsuit.

Dan’s employer didn’t fire him in retaliation for taking FMLA leave, said the court. Dan was fired because he’d committed FMLA abuse.

In court, Dan insisted that he had no idea that he wasn’t allowed to play golf or fix his sprinklers while he was on FMLA leave. And he said that he didn’t know he had to return to work immediately after caring for his father.

The court considered Dan’s claim that his employer hadn’t given him any information about FMLA leave and FMLA abuse. It noted that in some cases an employer’s failure to provide an employee with such information has caused courts to rule in favor of the employees.

But not in this case. Dan not only played golf for hours on end when he could have been at work, but he lied about it as well. The fact that he lied showed that he probably knew that what he did was FMLA abuse. In making it’s ruling, the court said that “an honest mistake may excuse a trivial misuse of leave,” but in this case, the employee had misused leave in ways that had been “untruthful.”

To be safe, always tell employees what they can and can’t do while on FMLA leave.

Cite: McDonald v. Eastern Municipal Water. Fictionalized for dramatic effect.

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