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You can terminate employees on FMLA leave

by on
in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Employees who are in trouble often ask for FMLA leave. They seem to believe that asking for or taking FMLA leave protects them from disciplinary action. That’s a myth.

The fact is, being on FMLA leave doesn’t protect employees from legitimate disciplinary action unrelated to their time off. As this case shows, if a company is prepared to fire an employee before he goes into rehab, it can fire him during or after that treatment, too.

Recent case:
Nicholas Allen was a police officer with a drinking problem. His supervisors put him on a last-chance agreement that required him to be alcohol-free for two years. Just a few days after the agreement expired, and after he had been warned that drinking off duty might violate professional conduct rules, Allen got drunk and was belligerent with emergency personnel called to his home.

He then checked into a treatment program and asked for FMLA leave. The police department granted it. Then, while he was still on FMLA leave but out of the hospital, the police department fired him for his unprofessional conduct.

He sued, alleging FMLA violations. The court threw out Allen’s case. It said the department could have fired him immediately, and the FMLA leave didn’t protect him from discharge. The police department didn’t fire him because he was an alcoholic or because he took FMLA leave. (Allen v. City of Sturgis, No. 1:07-CV-530, WD MI, 2008)

Final note: Alcoholism may be a disability under the ADA, but the law doesn’t excuse unacceptable behavior associated with the disease—and employers don’t have to tolerate it or accommodate it.

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