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Employee rights' victory after wrongful termination over FMLA use

The Department of Labor's Family and Medical Leave Act was designed to safeguard a job at times when an employee needs to take unpaid leave to care for his or her own health or that of a family member, or to look after a new baby. The annual limit that most employers are obliged to respect is 12 weeks.

In a case that has human resource practitioners around the U.S. sitting up and taking notice, a woman was fired for excessive unauthorized absences after she accompanied her mother on a trip to Las Vegas. The woman had been caring for her mother who was dying of a heart condition. When the mother said that a visit to Vegas was one of the things she wanted to do before she died, her daughter decided to take unpaid leave from work under the FMLA rules to grant her wish.

The woman successfully sued her employer for wrongful termination. In court it appears the employer fought back, claiming that FMLA leave doesn't cover trips to Vegas. The destination, a city associated by many with decadence and fun rather than terminal illness and medical treatment, seems to have tempered the employer's attitude toward the leave. However, the judge ruled that caring for the health of a family member isn't dependent upon the location.

Although this happened in another state, the principles of the case apply to any Indiana employer bound by the act. One of the messages the ruling sends out is that HR decision-makers should be careful not to let their personal prejudices or viewpoints color their disciplinary or termination actions. Anyone who feels that his or her employer hasn't adhered to the rules of FMLA should consider consulting an employment law attorney.

Source: Desert Companion, “Bucket city,” Andrew Kiraly, March 27, 2014

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