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An honest mistake won’t sink you

by on
in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

After receiving a phone message that her father had suffered a heart attack, Vickie Medley told her boss that she was leaving Denver immediately to drive to Nebraska. Over the next few weeks, she traveled back and forth, but her manager was unable to contact her. Even after Medley agreed to report for a meeting, she didn't show up at the office. She also never provided required certification for family leave from her father's physician.

Her employer concluded that she abandoned her job and fired her. Medley sued, and a jury awarded her more than $270,000 after deciding the company violated her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

But a federal appeals court threw out the award and ordered a new trial. The reason: If the company was acting in good faith and discharged an employee because of an honest mistake, it wasn't violating the FMLA. (Medley v. Polk Co., No. 00-1199, 10th Cir., 2001)

Advice: To have a good-faith defense, you need to make a solid effort to prove your assumption that an employee is faking a need for FMLA leave. This employer was unable to even reach Medley for the first 11 days after she left work, in part because her emergency contact number for her parents was outdated.

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