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Discipline for problems discovered during FMLA

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Some employees seem to think that their employer can’t punish them for violating company rules if they happen to be on FMLA leave when their employer finds out. They think the FMLA protects them broadly from consequences. For­­tu­­nately, that’s just not true.

Recent case: Jennifer worked as a certified medical assistant at a clinic that offers a family practice, pediatric care, OB/GYN and general surgery services.

She took FMLA leave for each of her three children’s birth. During the third leave, she came into the clinic several times and left with cans of baby formula and bottle nipples. These were samples that manufacturers had provided for clinic patients. Clinic protocol required each sample given away be logged with the recipient’s name and address.

The clinic also had a company policy prohibiting employees from accepting gifts valued at $75 or more. When her supervisor saw Jenni­­fer walk out with formula and other baby supplies, she began an investigation. She first asked Jennifer to explain. The new mother admitted she took the formula and supplies, but claimed that the formula sales representative had specifically brought the samples in for her to take home. When questioned, the representative denied ever telling Jennifer that she could take the formula.

The clinic then fired Jennifer for violating the ethics policy since the value of the formula taken was more than $75. Plus, it noted that Jennifer hadn’t logged the supplies and that she knew about the rule. Jennifer sued, alleging that she had been fired for taking FMLA leave and that the discharge interfered with her right to take that leave.

The court disagreed. It said employees are not “shielded from wrongdoing” while on FMLA leave. (Bloom v. Group Health Plan, No. 12-3060, DC MN, 2014)

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