Feel free to discipline employees even if you discover wrongdoing during FMLA leave

Some employees mistakenly believe that if they can just get FMLA leave approved, their employer can’t discharge them. Fortunately, that’s not true.

Employers can and should discipline employees who break the rules even if they happen to be out on FMLA leave when you discover the rule violation.

Recent case: Detrick supervised security guards assigned to a bank in Minnesota. Over time, he was both the object of a harassment complaint and the source of a complaint. After his internal complaint was dismissed following an investigation, he requested FMLA leave.

Around the same time, he allegedly demanded thousands of dollars in compensation for harassment and discrimination he said he had suffered.

The employer conducted another investigation and uncovered evidence that Detrick may have physically threatened several employees. In one case, an employee said Detrick had threatened to send his daughters to beat her up.

Detrick was fired and he sued, claiming that he should have been reinstated after his FMLA leave ended.

The court disagreed. It concluded the company was within its rights to discipline Detrick for his alleged behavior and that Detrick hadn’t shown that taking FMLA leave played any part in the decision to fire him. (Lockridge v. Per Mar Security, No. 12-2894, DC MN, 2014)

Final note: Never ignore employees who say co-workers—especially supervisors—have threatened physical violence. Always investigate those complaints and take appropriate action. It’s better to face a frivolous lawsuit than workplace violence.