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Can employees have fun while on FMLA leave?

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in Centerpiece,Firing,FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Sure, a birthday party may lift your spirits. But Congress probably didn’t have party attendance in mind as “covered treatment” when it gave employees the right to take FMLA medical leave. Still, should you instantly fire a worker for attending a party while on FMLA leave? As this ruling shows, think twice about blowing out those candles …

Case in Point: Diandra Gurne, a phone company call-center worker, was diagnosed with chronic migraines. The company gave her 36 hours a month of intermittent FMLA leave.

One day, Gurne called in sick before her 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. shift. She claimed the time off was part of her FMLA leave. She rested all day, then left to attend a co-worker’s husband’s birthday party.

Gurne claims she arrived at the party around 6 p.m. But one of the company’s managers also attended the party and said Gurne actually arrived at 4 p.m. After an investigation, the phone company retroactively denied Gurne four hours of FMLA leave. Eventually, it fired her.

She sued, saying the firing was interference with her FMLA rights and retaliation. The employer said company policy calls for termination for fraudulent use of FMLA time.

The court refused to issue a summary judgment. It sent the case to trial, saying the question of whether she was at the party during her shift was something the jury will decide. (Gurne v. Mich. Bell Tel. Co., E.D. Mich.)

3 lessons learned … without going to court

1. Look in the FMLA goody bag. Employees who are entitled to FMLA goodies can take the leave all at once, in weeks or in hours.

There are different ramifications to each as this court noted.

2. Pass out party hats. The FMLA is complicated. Know which other voices should evaluate the situation. Invite them to weigh in. Often, attorneys, HR professionals, investigators and managers bring different but helpful opinions to the party.

3. Don’t go nuts over the guest list. As this case clearly noted, you can be at a party with someone who just finished using intermittent FMLA leave. If that’s the case, then “leave” them alone.

Author: Mindy Chapman is an attorney and presi­dent of Mindy Chapman & Associates LLC. She is a master trainer and co-author of the book, Case Dismissed! Taking Your ­Har­assment Prevention Train­ing to Trial. Sign up to receive her Case in Point blog postings at www.BusinessManagementDaily.com.

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