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Checking up on alleged leave abuser? Document why you suspect particular employee

by on
in Firing,Human Resources

Do you think some employees may be taking advantage of your paid leave plan? If so, it’s OK to set up a surveillance program to catch the worst offenders. Just make sure you document why a particular employee’s behavior is suspicious.

Good reasons to check up include “coincidental” timing like absences clustered around weekends or holidays.

Recent case: John Gacek worked as an American Airlines baggage handler until he was fired for allegedly lying about an absence.

Before the discharge, Gacek sprained a finger and was supposed to wear a brace. Then he called in sick, reporting that he had the flu. Because this was near a holiday, the airline called his home several times and left messages. When he didn’t call back, a video surveillance team was dispatched. It filmed Gacek running errands and lifting heavy items without the brace.

When confronted, he said he hadn’t had the flu after all, but had pain in his arm. The airline didn’t buy the excuse—because of the video evidence—and fired him.

Gacek argued that the real reason he was being observed was that he had hurt himself at work and had filed an accident report. This, he said, was tantamount to firing him for applying for workers’ compensation.

The court didn’t buy his story either. It said it was clear the airline believed he was lying and fired him for that reason, not as a pretext. (Gacek v. American Airlines, No. 09-3131, 7th Cir., 2010)

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