In the face of death, illness, family need, and other dramatic changes, personal lives take higher importance than work lives. During such times, employees are entitled to a brief or extended leave from work.
There are strong federal job protections in place for employees who take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Employees cannot be punished, fired, or retaliated against for requesting and taking leave.
Although it seems that employees on leave are untouchable, FMLA regulations do not provide carte blanche protection. Employees can still be punished for misdeeds and for ignoring workplace protocol.
Even more delicate is the concept of termination or downsizing when administering FMLA leave. As long as the termination or layoff is completely unrelated to the FMLA leave, it is possible to proceed, with caution.
When considering termination or staff reduction, it is essential to carefully document details, to review with employment counsel, and to be certain the decision is completely unrelated to FMLA leave. Clearly, there is always a danger of FMLA interference and retaliation claims.
Click here to read a recent court case that shows that it is possible the courts will side with the employer when it is clearly documented that the employee would have been fired, regardless of FMLA status. Examples include documented embezzlement, poor performance, theft, harassment and fraud.
Educate Your Employees About FMLA:
When it comes to FMLA situations, it is vital to proceed carefully and make sure managers and employees alike are well educated about the benefits and limits of medical and family leave.
- FMLA is not a free pass. Employees who take FMLA leave are not exempt from consequences of misdeeds discovered while they are on leave or when they return back to work.
- If an employee requests a new assignment after returning from FMLA leave, it is legal for the employer to allow it. However, it is highly important to document the request.