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Don’t let FMLA request stop discipline that was already in the works

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in Firing,FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Employees may think that by making a request for FMLA leave, they can stop their employer’s legitimate disciplinary actions. That’s not true.

Employers that can clearly establish an independent reason for discipline—especially if it was already in the works before the request was made—seldom lose an FMLA retaliation case.

Recent case: Marty Roberts worked for a gas transmission company and had the use of a company truck. Employees were given a vehicle only if they lived within 45 miles of the workplace, which Roberts did not.

The company told Roberts he either needed to turn in the truck or move inside the 45-mile limit. He told his supervisor that he had relocated closer to work, and gave an address—that of a friend’s cabin.

While Roberts was off for surgery, the company tried to pick up the truck, but it wasn’t at the cabin. When Roberts was asked about the truck’s whereabouts—apparently without knowing someone had attempted to retrieve it—he said it was at the cabin. When the company eventually tracked it down at Roberts’ original address, it decided to fire him for lying.

Meanwhile, Roberts put in a second FMLA request. He was fired before it could be approved.

He sued, alleging retaliation for requesting FMLA leave.

The court said he had no case, since the discipline was already in the works and therefore couldn’t be related to the FMLA request. (Roberts v. Florida Gas Transmission, No. 11-30295, 5th Cir., 2011)

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