While this question may seem like a no-brainer, the issues is not a clear as you may think. For one federal court, there was no evidence supporting the employer’s decision to terminate an employee who traveled during his FMLA leave, and it reversed the dismissal of the employee’s retaliation claims. As with every employment case, the ruling is based on the specific facts of the case. Nonetheless, the facts of this case are interesting and probably more common than you might imagine.
Jones v. Gulf Coast Health Care of Del., LLC
The employee in this case had worked for the long-term nursing facility for approximately eleven (11) years. His job duties included planning and coordinating events and activities for residents of the nursing facility. Following shoulder surgery, the employee was granted FMLA leave from September 26, 2014 to December 18, 2014.
When his leave was expected to end, the employee’s treating physician informed him that he could return to work but could not resume his normal physical activity. Despite the physician’s recommended limitations and request that the employee return to light duty, the employer refused to let him return until he was fully recovered. Instead, the employer granted the employee an additional thirty (30) days of FMLA leave.
Employeeon FMLA Leave Takes Several Trips
While on the mandated 30-day FMLA leave, the employee visited Busch Gardens in Tampa Bay and took a three-day trip to St. Martin in the Caribbean. While on these trips, he posted several pictures on social media and texted pictures of Busch Gardens decorations to co-workers as ideas for decorating the nursing facility. When the employee returned to work after the mandated leave, he was terminated. According to his employer, the decision to terminate him was based on the pictures he posted during his trips which showed the employee “had been well enough to return to work at an earlier point.”
The Protections of the FMLA
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., requires covered employers to give qualifying employees twelve (12) weeks of unpaid leave for qualifying reasons. The protections of the FMLA also prohibit interference and retaliation by employers. In order to prove retaliation, a plaintiff must meet a three-part test: (1) The plaintiff invoked a right to leave under the FMLA, and (2) the employer made an adverse decision that (3) “was causally related to her invocation of rights.”
Appellate Court Revives the Employees Retaliation Claim
Following his termination, the employee in this case filed a lawsuit claiming interference and retaliation under the FMLA. The district court initially found in favor of the employer and dismissed the lawsuit. However, the employee appealed and the appellate court disagreed with the dismissal.
In overturning the district court’s decision, the appellate court pointed out that there was sufficient evidence to allow the retaliation claim to proceed based on the fact that the defendant “could point to no company policy requiring [its] employees to remain at home or refrain from traveling while on medical leave.”
If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced Birmingham employment law attorneys at Michel | King . You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880. We are here to serve you!