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Remind supervisors to err on the side of caution when employee claims medical emergency

by on
in Firing,Human Resources

When supervisors act out of anger or ignorance, the result is seldom good.

Recent case: Angela, a telemarketer and administrative assistant, had a history of bladder illnesses. Cystitis caused flareups during which Angela experienced pain and urgent, frequent urination. Over the four years she worked for her employer, she had to go to the emergency room several times. She had frequent medical appointments during the workday. She also used the bathroom often, taking longer-than-­authorized breaks.

One Friday, Angela missed work due to what she described as severe pain and frequent urination. On Sat­­ur­­day she was in bed; by Sunday morning she was in the emergency room.

There, doctors diagnosed an additional illness—herpes simplex—and inserted a catheter to let her urinate.

She sent a text message to her supervisor, describing what was happening and informing her boss that the doctor said she would need to use a catheter for several days. She said she wouldn’t be able to work on Monday.

The supervisor replied she would be terminated if she didn’t come to work on Monday.

Angela came into the office on Tuesday, with the catheter bag in plain view.

She was fired shortly after complaining that the threat to fire her violated the law. Then she sued.

The company argued that Angela’s absence wasn’t covered by the FMLA because she had two separate illnesses, neither of which incapacitated her for four days. The court ordered a trial. (Fries v. TRI Marketing, No. 11-1052, DC MN, 2012)

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