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Patience pays off when handling absenteeism

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Sometimes, an employer’s most valuable quality is patience. For example, letting an employee take FMLA leave even if you suspect his underlying condition may not really qualify can make the employee’s subsequent lawsuit fall flat.

Recent case: Randall had worked for the New York State Veterans Home for many decades when another employee accused him of “workplace violence.”

He immediately put in a request for FMLA leave, stating that he felt “afraid and threatened,” and believed his “health and safety was at risk.”

The state didn’t contest Randall’s leave request and he was absent for three months.

About a week after he returned to work, Randall’s supervisors told him he would be counseled for allegedly threatening the co-worker back before he took FMLA leave. Randall again left work, stating he felt “threatened.”

Two days later, Randall was notified he would have to undergo a fitness-for-duty exam before returning to work. He didn’t show up, having obtained a note from his doctor stating that he could not come to the exam because it was “medically necessary for him to be absent from work” whenever there was a conflict in the work environment.

He also refused to come to another scheduled meeting to discuss his allegations and his refusal to receive counseling about the original co-worker complaint.

The state placed Randall on unpaid leave, and he was finally fired about a year later.

Randall sued, alleging he had been retaliated against for taking FMLA leave.

The court quickly dismissed his lawsuit, reasoning that not only had Randall received all the leave he was entitled to, but he had also been allowed to remain an employee for a year after he initially requested FMLA leave. (Tiffany v. Dzwonczyk, et al., No. 3:15-CV-00108, ND NY, 2016)

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