Dear HR Executive,
Does it feel sometimes as if the Family and Medical Leave Act affects every personnel action you take? It's easy to see why.
Look at this interesting legal case, for example:
A school district employee in Florida was put on a performance improvement plan (PIP) because he wasn't meeting expectations in two important performance categories. He had six weeks to demonstrate improvement in these areas.
Less than two weeks after the inception of the PIP, he asked for FMLA leave to care for an infant. The employer granted the leave, but when he came back from it, refused to renew his contract because he hadn't completed the PIP.
Reasonable or not?
Sound reasonable? In a way. The employee failed to demonstrate the competence the employer expected of him.
But when he sued for FMLA interference and retaliation, a federal appeals court said his case was strong enough to go to trial. Such a ruling is always bad news for employers, and many settle out of court to avoid further legal expenses.
What did the employer do wrong? Under the circumstances, the school district had no choice: It had to extend the PIP period to give the employee a chance to complete the plan successfully.
The key issue: You can fire an employee while he or she is on FMLA leave if you do so for reasons unrelated to the FMLA. But the employer here couldn't prove it would have let the employee go, FMLA or not. The court pointed out that it was impossible to guess whether he would have completed his PIP if he'd had the full six weeks.
What do we learn from this case? If an employee asks for FMLA leave in the middle of a PIP or a progressive disciplinary procedure, it's a good idea to "stop the clock" during the leave. Otherwise you risk breaking the law.
Editor in Chief
Human Resources 21
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