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No STD documentation? OK to discipline–or fire

by on
in Employment Law,Firing,FMLA Guidelines,HR Management,Human Resources

If you offer short-term disability (STD) benefits for employees who can’t work because of illness, you probably insist on medical documentation.

If the employee doesn’t provide that information within the reasonable timeline your STD plan requires, you can count the absence against the employee and terminate her.

Recent case: Kim Manning went to work for American Republic Insurance, where her job was to sell insurance products and answer questions over the phone.

After just 50 days on the job, she said she was temporarily disabled and applied for STD benefits under the company’s self-funded plan.

HR told Manning she needed to get a medical certification from an approved health care provider that showed she was disabled. HR gave her a list of “objective disabling symptoms and signs.”

Manning first provided a note that wasn’t from an approved medical professional. Then she provided documentation from her doctor, but it didn’t list any symptoms or signs.

Finally, the company sent Manning a letter informing her that she either had to return to work or get the proper certification. She did neither and was terminated for excessive absenteeism.

Manning sued, alleging that when the company fired her, it was retaliation against her for applying for benefits.

The court dismissed her case. It reasoned that firing an employee for excessive absenteeism isn’t the same as firing an employee to keep her from getting benefits to which she would otherwise be entitled. Instead, this was a case of an employer terminating an employee who wasn’t eligible for STD benefits (or FMLA leave, because she had just started the job). (Manning v. American Republic Insurance Company, No. 09-2625, 8th Cir., 2010)

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