FMLA doesn’t mean they can break workplace rules

Employees are entitled to take FMLA leave for covered serious medical conditions, which means they can’t be punished for taking leave. However, that protection doesn’t give them carte blanche to ignore workplace rules, and it doesn’t mean they can’t be punished for misdeeds that occur during FMLA leave.

Recent case: Lisa worked as a hospice bereavement coordinator, working with people whose family members were dying. She oversaw group bereavement sessions for adults and children, attended funerals and provided in-person interaction with grieving families.

Over the years, Lisa took extensive FMLA leave for various conditions, including depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder.

The hospice had a computerized system that bereavement coordinators like Lisa used to schedule appointments. Using the system meant that if a coordinator was absent, the appointments would still show on the master calendar, allowing a supervisor to change those appointments or assign them to another coordinator.

Lisa scheduled two appointments without using the system sometime before going out on a brief FMLA leave. No one met with the family members because Lisa didn’t tell anyone at the hospice about them. When she returned to work, she received a written reprimand for not letting anyone know about the appointments.

FMLA Compliance D

Later, Lisa lost her job in a reduction in force. She sued, alleging interference with FMLA leave and retaliation for taking leave.

The hospice argued that it had allowed Lisa to take all the leave she requested, but that she was still responsible for keeping her supervisor informed about appointments she would miss, especially given that she could have used the scheduling system to avoid the problem.

The court agreed with the hospice and dismissed the case. (Conway v. Celtic Healthcare, et al., MD PA, 2018)


Two obvious truths that employees sometimes misunderstand…

1. Employees who take FMLA leave are not immune to discipline discovered while they are out on FMLA leave or after they return to work.

2. If an employee asks for a new assignment when she returns from FMLA leave, it’s perfectly legal for the employer to grant that request. That in no way violates the FMLA. Just make sure you carefully document the request at the time she makes it.