Feel free to impose legitimate discipline on employee, even if she’s on FMLA leave

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in Employment Law,FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Perhaps you have faced this situation: An employee is about to be disciplined, but suddenly applies for FMLA leave. She begins her leave while the discipline is pending. Do you have to wait to punish her?

Not if you can clearly show that the punishment is for legitimate reasons and not related to her FMLA leave. If that’s the case, you can impose the discipline—up to and including termination.

Recent case: Pamela Altman worked for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and received several short suspensions for workplace violations.

Among the infractions: accessing law enforcement records for her own personal use and failing to respond to a request to check on a child under her jurisdiction or ask someone else to check for her.

While the department was deciding on the appropriate discipline, Altman went out on FMLA leave. The employer then concluded she should be suspended for 15 days. It suspended her by taking her off FMLA leave for the 15 days and then placed her back on leave for the rest of her entitlement.

Altman sued, alleging that the suspension was retaliation for taking FMLA leave.

The court disagreed. It said employers are free to discipline employees on FMLA leave because the FMLA isn’t meant to protect employees from legitimate discipline. Plus, she got all the time she was entitled to. (Altman v. Department of Children and Family Services, No. 06-CV-771, SD IL, 2010)

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