If you have a large enough HR office, it makes good sense to keep therequest and approval process separate from the disciplinary process. Doing so ensures that someone with expertise in handles the entire process.
But there is an additional benefit. Should the employee later argue that he or she was disciplined in retaliation for requesting, you can show that the same parties weren’t involved in the decision-making. That makes proving retaliation much harder, as this case shows.
Recent case: Darryl worked for a casino with central offices in Nevada. When he requested information on taking FMLA leave, he contracted the HR person designated as the FMLA expert. She forwarded his inquiry to an outside administrator in Nevada.
Meanwhile, Darryl was involved in an incident in the elevator at work. He allegedly grabbed and pushed a co-worker into the elevator and continued to touch the co-worker after being told to stop. The casino fired Darryl a few days later based on its anti-harassment policy.
Darryl sued, alleging that he had been fired for requesting FMLA leave.
The court tossed out his lawsuit. It reasoned that the managers who approved discharge for the elevator incident knew nothing about the FMLA request. Since they didn’t, they could not have retaliated. (McElroy v. Sands Casino, No. 14-1325, 3rd Cir., 2014)
Final note: Remember, asking for or taking FMLA leave isn’t a shield against unrelated discipline.