Case in Point:
Theresa Moran worked as a school bus driver in Michigan and was a member of the local union. She had a history of excessive absenteeism.
Moran was planning to get married in Florida, so she requested additional vacation leave beyond the five days allowed. Her supervisor granted the request on the condition that Moran have no more attendance problems going forward. But, that didn’t happen. Moran’s attendance problems continued. So, as expected, her supervisor denied the additional vacation time to go to Florida.
A few weeks before the scheduled trip, Moran submitted a handwritten doctor’s note that requested FMLA leave due to Moran’s “acute situational anxiety.” The original return-to-work date was scratched off and the new listed date was after her return from Florida.
Suspicious, the school tried to reach her at home but Moran never picked up the phone or returned four calls. The school requested additional medical records but Moran refused to cooperate. The school suspended her and she filed a grievance. When she refused to sign a “last-chance agreement” the school fired her.
Moran sued for retaliation for exercising her FMLA rights. The school district claimed Moran wasn’t protected by the FMLA because her leave request was for an illegitimate purpose (vacation), not a serious medical condition.
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What happened next and what lessons can be learned?
The court sided with the school district. It said the “highly suspicious” nature of Moran's leave, combined with her history of excessive absenteeism and failure to answer telephone calls, demonstrated that the district undisputably held “an honest belief” that Moran was misusing her FMLA leave. Adding to this was Moran's refusal to agree to provide her medical records. The court concluded, “The district made a reasonably informed and considered decision before terminating Moran.” (Moran v. Redford Union Sch. Dist., E.D. Mich.)
4 tips on certifiying that FMLA leave request
1. Obtain a medical certification for each request for leave due to a serious health condition. Use of the medical certification process is the biggest weapon employers have in combating FMLA leave abuse and the first step in an anti-fraud program.
2. Enforce a 15-day policy for submitting certification paperwork. If an employee fails to submit certification within the 15 day period, deny the leave request.
3. If you doubt the need for leave, investigate the certification. Under the FMLA, your organization can contact the employee's physician directly to clarify the medical certification.
4. If you're still not convinced, require (and pay for) a second opinion. Use an independent doctor that you select, not a doctor who works for your organization.
The FMLA is nothing if not confusing. 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for “serious health conditions” can be very complicated in the real world. Fortunately, the FMLA Compliance Guide has answers to employers' real-world situations and questions such as:
What's more, the FMLA Compliance Guide will help you discover the seven issues you must cover – in writing – with an employee requesting FMLA leave, whether you can legally fire someone who is on FMLA leave, and an amazingly simple strategy that prevents employees from taking 24 weeks of back-to-back leave. Get your copy today!
- In an emergency, can an employee claim FMLA without informing someone at work?
- Do I have to count temporary and part-time employees toward the 50-employee minimum?
- What if my company downsizes during an employee’s FMLA leave? Will I still owe her a job?
- Does treatment for substance abuse qualify an employee for FMLA leave?
- Can I require an employee to return to work early if I offer a “light-duty” assignment?