But that doesn’t mean you’re powerless if you suspect abuse.
If you notice odd or recurring patterns—such as employees using intermittentleave around holidays or a Monday/Friday trend—the best approach is to carefully document your suspicions. List intermittent leave requests and when they coincide with other time off. Then launch an investigation.
Remember, court rulings have given you the power to call and check on employees to make sure they’re resting at home during FMLA leave. Or you can require them to contact you if they leave the house during sick leave.
Give teeth to yourby creating penalties for workers who violate the call-in rules. Make sure employees on FMLA know they don’t have an unqualified right to be “left alone” while enjoying time off.
Recent case: Ohio Bell Telephone employee Erik Tillman suffered from a chronic back condition, so his doctor certified intermittent leave when pain flared up.
After a few months, Tillman’s boss noticed that his FMLA requests always coincided with other days off. HR launched an investigation.
The next time Tillman used intermittent leave—again coinciding with other days off—an investigator secretly filmed Tillman doing yard work, apparently not in pain.
When confronted with the evidence, Tillman claimed he had taken drugs that helped his mobility. Ohio Bell fired him anyway for dishonesty.
Tillman sued, alleging interference with FMLA leave. The court dismissed the case, saying Ohio Bell honestly believed it was discharging an employee for abusing leave. (Tillman v. Ohio Bell Telephone, No. 3:09-CV-2351, ND OH, 2011)
Employers say the first quarter is the prime time of year when employees call in sick:
January – March 34%
April – June 13%
July – September 30%
October – December 23%
Source: CareerBuilder survey
- How to Fire an Employee the Legal Way: 6 Termination Guidelines
- Don't take malingering employee's bait: Calling in sick shouldn't trigger FMLA query
- Suggestion box winners: Beer, bikinis … and then maybe a nap
- Prepare to make clear-cut case before firing public employee working on contract
- Workers ask to talk to HR about their boss: What now?