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OK to fire employee who lies about FMLA absence

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in Firing,FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Employees sometimes don’t want to give their employers personal details about an illness or a condition that may be covered by the FMLA. Instead they just call in sick. When confronted about the absences, they may even lie about the real nature of the absences.

You’re entitled to take those employees at their word. But if you find out they lied about the nature of their health problems, you can fire them for violating your honesty policy. Whether the absence was for a serious health condition is irrelevant.

Recent case: Former Bethlehem municipal employee Catherine Hughes has diabetes. She scheduled a vacation to Las Vegas and, while there, arranged to have her eyebrows and lips permanently tattooed for reasons apparently related to her diabetic condition.

Because she was scheduled to work the last two days of her absence, she called in sick.

When she got back, she was called into a meeting and asked about the days. Hughes told her boss that she had been sick and confined to bed at her boyfriend’s house. Later, she admitted she had lied, but continued to claim that she had been absent from work because of her disability and serious health condition. The city fired her.

Hughes sued. The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed her case, reasoning that it didn’t matter whether her underlying condition meant she might have qualified for FMLA leave. The fact was, she had lied and the city was justified in firing her for that transgression. (Hughes v. City of Bethlehem, et al., No. 07-2349, 3rd Cir., 2008)

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