Supervisor’s take-home: Proceed cautiously before terminating a crew member on the same day he or she returns from approved leave.
What happened: After she was reprimanded for the unprofessional manner in which she’d interacted with a customer, a female employee asked for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) because she suffered from vertigo. Her leave request was approved.
What people did: On the same day the woman returned from FMLA leave, she was called into another meeting to talk about her unacceptable behavior in regard to the customer. The meeting became contentious, and the woman screamed profanities at her bosses and stated that she wouldn’t deal with that customer anymore. The woman was placed on paid leave, then terminated.
Legal challenge: The woman sued for FMLA retaliation, noting that she was dismissed on the very same day she came back from approved leave. She also pointed to a text message from a manager stating that the woman had abandoned her job by taking leave.
The employer said the crew member was dismissed because of poor performance as well as her use of profanity in violation of the company’s code of conduct.
Result: The employer lost. The court refused to dismiss the lawsuit. The judge said a jury should decide whether the woman was retaliated against for taking FMLA leave. The court pointed out that the staffer was fired on the very same day she returned from leave and that there was some evidence of illegal bias based on the supervisor’s text message stating that the woman had abandoned her job by taking leave.
The skinny: Judges rarely look favorably on companies that terminate workers on the very same day they return from FMLA leave.
Cite: Lopera v. Compass Group USA, U.S. District Court, D. Massachusetts, No. 21-10355-NMG, 12/28/21.
(From the March 18, 2022, issue of HR Managers Legal Alert for Supervisors. To start your no-obligation trial subscription to the publication right now, please click here.)