Employee stressed out by possible discipline? That’s no reason to halt the process

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Go figure: Some employees get stressed out when they suspect they’re facing serious discipline or even termination. That understandable anxiety doesn’t mean you have to stop the disciplinary process.

Unless the employee asks for FMLA leave or otherwise gives you enough information to indicate that she has a serious health condition—and not just nerves—you can go ahead with your investigation.

On the other hand, if you do get notice that the employee may be suffering from a more serious condition, start the FMLA leave process. Then consult your attorney for guidance on how to proceed.

Recent case: When Brenda Lowery, who worked for a sheriff’s department, was arrested, she was worried whether she would lose her job. The department frequently fired employees who were involved in criminal matters. But Lowery never mentioned that she might be having what she later called a nervous breakdown until after she was terminated.

Then she sued, alleging that her employer had interfered with her right to take FMLA leave by terminating her.

The court didn’t buy her argument. It said she would have had to tell her supervisor or someone else in authority that she might need FMLA leave or had a serious health condition before she was disciplined. Otherwise, she couldn’t show that her need for FMLA leave was related to the discharge decision. (Lowery v. Strength, et al., No. 09-11597, 11th Cir., 2009)

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