Violence in the Workplace and FMLA policy

by on February 2, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Could a violent worker demand FMLA leave?

“Violence against a co-worker is a firing offense,” HR director Carla Waterman told Philip Daniels. “Everybody who was there said you charged Sheldon and threatened to break his bones.”

“I wasn’t in my right mind,” said Philip. “I was having a panic attack.”

“That’s no excuse for what you did,” Carla said sternly.

“It is too an excuse, and a good one,” Philip said. “I was sick, and I wasn’t responsible for my behavior.”

“Did you tell anybody you were sick beforehand?” Carla asked.

“A week ago I told Jim Stewart I was sick and he said I could go to the doctor if I needed to per company FMLA policy,” Philip said, referring to his supervisor.

Are Panic attacks covered under FMLA policy

“So did you go?” Carla asked.

“No, I started feeling better,” Philip replied. “But then, that one morning, I felt all panicky and woozy again. I told Jim I had to go home.”

“But as I understand it, you didn’t go home,” Carla said. “Instead you drove over to the Maplewood plant to settle some score with Sheldon.”

“He has been riding me for years, and I think he’s partly responsible for these attacks I have,” said Philip. “Just thinking about him makes me all shaky. I wanted to tell him to lay off.”

“But you did more than tell him,” Carla said. “You charged him, and three men had to hold you back. I have to terminate you for your own safety and everybody else’s. Violence isn’t an illness covered under our FMLA policy”

“You should be giving me medical leave instead of firing me,” Philip said. “I’m not a well man.”

After his termination, Philip sued for interference with his FMLA rights. Did he win?

Decision

No, Philip didn’t win. The court threw his FMLA lawsuit out.

The court said Philip didn’t notify the company that he might have a serious health condition entitling him to leave.

When Philip first talked to Jim, he didn’t give the supervisor any idea what was wrong. He just said he wasn’t feeling well.

Later, on the day of the altercation, he didn’t seek medical assistance after leaving work but instead drove off to confront the man he held responsible for his panics. “It was this deliberate and aggressive act that yielded his termination, not his panic disorder,” the court said.

Employer’s nightmare

Workplace violence is an employer’s worst nightmare. You’re right to insist that co-workers refrain not only from attacking each other, but also from making threats. Threats can lead to physical violence, and your liability may be huge if somebody is hurt.

Fortunately, as this case shows, you don’t have to let a worker invoke a need for medical leave as an excuse for violent behavior.

The supervisor might, however, have headed off the trouble if he had pressed Philip for information the first time he complained of feeling ill. Philip might have revealed enough about his condition that the company would have decided to remove him from the workplace and get him help.

Cite: Anders v. Waste Management of Wisconsin, No. 05-3862, 7th Cir., 9/12/06

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