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Go ahead and discipline, even when considering FMLA leave

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in Employment Law,FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Employees who ask for FMLA leave often act as if they are immune from any sort of discipline. But that’s simply not the case. Even if an employee has applied for or is actually on FMLA leave, you can and should punish rule breaking.

Just make sure you aren’t treating an employee who takes FMLA leave more harshly than any other employee. Equitable discipline is the rule.

Recent case: Wanda Woodson was a charge nurse at Scott & White Memorial Hospital. She received a “final warning” disciplinary action for using a co-worker’s computer without consent. Other employees also claimed Woodson was a gossip who read other employees’ e-mails.

Woodson, who said she hadn’t done anything wrong, began to suffer from severe anxiety and depression. She left work and did not return, but did provide two doctors’ notes excusing her absence. She asked for FMLA leave.

Her employer then discovered that Woodson also had accessed a co-worker’s medical records in violation of hospital policy. The hospital then fired Woodson for unprofessional conduct and violating the hospital’s privacy and medical records rules.

Woodson sued, alleging retaliation for taking FMLA leave. But the court dismissed the case, reasoning that the hospital had an independent reason for its action—Woodson’s violations of the privacy and medical records policies. Just because the discharge came on the heels of her FMLA request did not constitute a cause-and-effect correlation. (Woodson v. Scott and White Memorial Hospital, No. 6:04-CV-403, 5th Cir., 2007)

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