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Does your action seem sleazy? Reconsider

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Employers are technically allowed to terminate employees who don’t turn in their paperwork within 15 days of going on FMLA leave. But doing so under all circumstances may be a mistake, especially if the employee had a good reason for the delay.

Courts may view the slavish ad­her­ence to time requirements as evidence that something else motivated the employer’s actions. That something else may be the intent to deprive the employee of FMLA leave.

Recent case: Edwin Neumann had worked for Plastipak Packaging for over 20 years when his back began ­giving him trouble. He was sched­­uled to have surgery, but fell down the stairs. The fall caused his surgery to be de­­layed, so he told his em­­ployer he wouldn’t yet need the FMLA leave he had previously been approved to take.

A few months later, Neumann re­­scheduled surgery and got the FMLA leave forms from HR. He knew he had to get them back to HR within 15 days of beginning leave. He had the surgery and his orthopedist filled out the forms and faxed them in.

Unfortunately, the doctor mis­dialed the fax number—and Plastipak terminated Neumann because he missed the deadline. But Neumann checked with the doctor’s office, which discovered the mistake. It then faxed the forms to the correct number. Even so, the company refused to budge.

Neumann sued, alleging interference with his right to FMLA leave.

The court said he had a case. It essentially couldn’t believe that the company acted in good faith when it fired an employee of 20-plus years who just had serious surgery, all because his doctor made a mistake. (Neumann v. Plastipak Packaging, No. 1:11-CV-522, ND OH, 2011)

Final note: Does your pending action seem sleazy? Don’t do it without talking to your attorney first.

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