Is intermittent FMLA leave killing workflow and productivity?

by on March 18, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Be careful to stay in FMLA compliance

Just get back to the machine like I told you,” production supervisor Lamont Sutton told operator Betty Billups, shouting over the clatter of the factory floor.

“You never put me on that machine alone before,” Betty complained. “It’s hard on my back.”

“You’re qualified to run it and that’s all I care about,” Lamont said, turning and walking toward his office. Betty followed him.

“Hold it, Lamont,” she said. “We’ve worked together for five years and you never treated me like this – that is, until I asked for intermittent FMLA leave.”


“You never did bad work like this before,” he grumbled. “You messed up those measurements on the run for Packard and we had to scrap the whole batch.”

“You wrote me up for that, but you never wrote up Tom Bizanti,” Betty said. “He did the same thing two months back.”

“Tom doesn’t take off time like you do,” Lamont replied. “We had to warn you about unexcused absences twice this summer.”

“You know the trouble my back’s been giving me!” Betty said. “I’ll remind you that my doctor gave me a note and HR is letting me take intermittent FMLA leave when I need it. Maybe I was a little late with a couple excuses, but the other times I missed were in full FMLA compliance

“Be that as it may, I have a shop to run,” Lamont said.

“All right, but I’d like a little more respect,” Betty said. “The other operators are acting real strange around me these days.”

The following week, Betty missed another day and was late getting her excuse in. Because it was her fourth such absence in the year, she was terminated. She sued for retaliation under the FMLA.


Betty won her lawsuit. A court said there was evidence of increased hostility toward her after she got permission to take intermittent FMLA leave for her chronic back pain.

Betty’s supervisor was allowed to write up operators for inputting bad measurements, but he had never done it before. And one operator testified that when co-workers informed on her, Lamont took these allegations more seriously than he did back-biting about other workers.

Also, Lamont didn’t give serious consideration to Betty’s request for lighter-duty work – on a machine other than the difficult one he put her on. This pushed Betty toward the absence that got her fired.

Different treatment: Retaliation often turns on whether supervisors treat a worker differently compared with other workers, or compared with the way they treated the worker before.

Take home: It’s critical for supervisors to maintain an even demeanor toward employees, even problem ones, treating them the same way every day.

Cite: Pinson v. Berkley Medical Resources, No. 03-1255, W.D. Pa., 6/21/2005.

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