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Court: You can demand employee honesty!

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

A federal trial court has reaffirmed that employers have the right to expect employees to be truthful. It said it’s fine to punish an employee who was reasonably suspected of dishonesty—even if it turns out the employer was wrong.

Recent case: William’s employer made it a policy to grant longer paid temporary disability leave than the FMLA mandates. Employees could extend their time off by several weeks.

William took leave following spinal surgery. His recovery was slow and included frequent physical therapy sessions. Although William claimed he wanted to return to work as soon as possible, his doctors wouldn’t release him early and his employer wanted him to take enough time off to fully recover.

During William’s last few weeks off, someone in HR discovered online photos showing William on a deer-hunting trip. Thinking that hunting was outside his medical restrictions, the company reviewed William’s latest medical assessment. It discovered that, according to the form, William had already been cleared for work.

When William returned to work, he was called into HR and asked about the trip. The company claimed he denied going hunting. (William would later claim he was merely evasive.) When confronted with the photos, however, he confessed, although he protested he hadn’t really been cleared for work. It turned out that the medical form had the wrong date and that the real return date was the day on which William returned. None­­the­­less, William was fired.

He sued, alleging interference with his right to FMLA leave.

The company argued that it fired William because he lied and not because he had used FMLA leave.

The court dismissed William’s case. It reasoned that employers have the right to expect ­employees to tell the truth and had reasonably suspected that William had been dishonest. (Foster v. Sanderson Farms, No, 4:11-CV-17, SD TX, 2013)

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