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Be prepared to show court that your rules are fair

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Courts want to leave employers in charge of running their organizations. They won’t second-guess the rules you set, as long as they don’t appear illegal or discriminatory—even petty or quirky rules.

Recent case: Anne worked as a teacher. After taking FMLA leave, she returned to work. Eight weeks later, her evaluation criticized her classroom management skills. For example, she was cited for allowing students to chew gum and wear their sweatshirt hoods up during instruction time. Both were prohibited by school rules.

When Anne was terminated for poor performance, she sued, claiming she had been evaluated and fired in retaliation for taking FMLA leave. She told the court that the rules she supposedly didn’t enforce were essentially a bad idea and she shouldn’t have been punished for ignoring them.

The court tossed out her case. It reasoned that the school had every right to set rules—even those that some found unreasonable. Enforcing those rules was legitimate and, in this case, not merely an attempt to cover up retaliation. (Serby v. New York City Department of Education, et al., No. 12-1601, 2nd Cir., 2013)

Final note: Courts really don’t want to be HR managers. When they can, they defer to employers if those employers are honest and fair. Employers are even allowed to make mistakes about whether a worker broke a rule. Discrimination is illegal; goofy rules are not.

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