Couple's Overlapping FMLA Leave Suggests Hanky-Panky

                               

Kokomo, IN (WorkersCompensation.com) – A worker whose employer disciplines him for providing false or misleading information to obtain FMLA leave is very likely to lose his case if he sues for interference. 

The Chrysler transmission plant worker who was suspended in Juday v. FCA US, LLC, No. 21-1414 (7th Cir. 01/12/23), couldn’t fully explain why he kept taking medical leave on the same dates and times as his wife, a co-worker.

But from the company’s perspective (after it investigated), it appeared that the couple just wanted to spend time together. 

Key Points in the Case

  • FMLA entitlements apply only if an employee uses his leave for its intended purpose.
  • FMLA interference can include using the taking of FMLA leave as a negative factor in employment actions, such as hiring, promotions, or disciplinary actions.
  • An employer who disciplines an employee for providing false information need not conclusively prove that the employee abused his FMLA leave; an honest suspicion is enough.

The couple’s storybook romance began when they met at the plant and married in 2014. Both worked there. Both had serious medical conditions. The employee suffered from anxiety, depression, and back pain. His wife experienced regular flare-ups of irritable bowel syndrome.

Based on the workers’ medical certifications, the company allowed both husband and wife to take intermittent medical leave. 

An investigation revealed that their leave dates and times matched up about half the time. The employee said that, about 20%-30% of the time, when his wife’s IBS flared, his anxiety increased. The wife, meanwhile, told the investigator that about 20%-30% of the time that her husband’s conditions flared, she would have IBS episodes.

The company concluded that the employee provided false information as part of his leave requests. It suspended him for 30 days.

The worker sued the company for interfering with his FMLA rights. A District Court granted the company summary judgment and the worker challenged that decision in the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The 7th Circuit observed that it is unlawful for an employer to interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of or the attempt to exercise an FMLA right. 

However, the court remarked, the Act does not insulate an employee from discipline for abusing his leave rights, including by providing false information. Further, an employer that disciplines an employee for providing false information need not conclusively prove that the employee abused his FMLA leave; an honest suspicion is enough.

Here, there was no evidence calling into question the company’s honest suspicion that the employee abused his FMLA leave. It was undisputed that the couple’s leave requests often overlapped. 

Further, the employee estimated that his anxiety flare-ups were triggered by his wife's medical condition only about 20%-30% of the time, and neither worker had “any explanation for the frequency of the common dates and times of their FMLA absences,” the court wrote.

Finally, the court rejected the worker’s argument that its ruling in Vail v. Raybestos Products Co., 533 F.3d 904 (7th Cir. 2008), created a higher standard for a company’s honest suspicion. The court conceded that video surveillance in that case helped the employer justify its adverse employment action against a worker with migraines seen repeatedly mowing lawns during his leave requests.  But that case doesn’t mean video evidence is required in every case, the court stated.

Because the transmission plan worker presented no evidence that the company’s reason for suspending him was anything other than genuine, he could not establish an FMLA interference claim.

The court affirmed the District Court’s ruling in favor of Chrysler.

Compliance? We have that covered on WorkCompResearch


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