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Sudden FMLA leave? Focus on logistics

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

There’s no doubt that a key em­­ployee’s sudden and unexpected extended absence can disrupt business. Even so, remind supervisors to keep their gripes to themselves if it turns out that the employee is exercising her FMLA rights.

Tell bosses to be careful how they discuss the absence with other managerial colleagues.

It’s fine, however, to talk over the practical coverage details that will make sure the employee’s work gets done. Discussing the practical aspects of the sudden absence isn’t evidence that your organization is anti-FMLA leave—it’s merely a reflection of business reality.

Recent case: Katherine worked as a talent acquisition manager for Chrysler, recruiting potential employees for open positions. Her supervisors complained that she frequently called off without notice and then took the time as vacation.

She also sometimes worked from home without permission, despite warnings not to.

When Chrysler prepared to outsource recruitment, it told Katherine and others in her position they would need to apply soon for new open jobs.

Shortly afterward, Katherine called and informed her supervisors she would be gone on medical leave for rheumatoid arthritis treatments—effective the next day.

Internal email discussions between managers included a statement that “she’s leaving abruptly today,” and “I agree it may be confusing, but she put us in this position. Hopefully there’s minimal to no disruption.”

They arranged for someone to assume her duties, and her leave was approved.

When Katherine returned, the outsourcing had been completed and she applied for other positions. She wasn’t hired based on her past performance.

That’s when Katherine sued, alleging that refusing to hire her was retaliation for using FMLA leave.

She argued that the discussions about her sudden departure showed her employer resented the FMLA leave she took despite approving it.

The court dismissed the case. It said managers faced with a sudden absence can discuss how to handle the absence. (Henderson v. Chrysler, No. 14-2032, 6th Cir., 2015)

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