If a “mediocre” employee tells his boss that he is experiencing flu-like symptoms and then submits a doctor’s note stating that he needs to take a month off from work to recover from a virus, can the employee’s boss tell the employee to “just push through it” and that he “could not afford to take off an entire month”?
What if the boss explains that his remarks were simply sports talk designed to motivate the employee — a former football player — and he added the comment, “you don’t get to sit on the bench while the rest of the team is out there and you’re resting”?
Someone call a time-out, please.
As you probably guessed, if an employee is eligible for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), then such responses could constitute unlawful interference with the employee’s rights, as a federal court in Florida ruled last month in Brown v. Lassiter-Ware, Inc., from which the comments above are taken. Scoffing aside, the boss at issue here was no doubt trying to do the right thing for his company and motivate the employee to work harder and produce more sales. But it is equally clear the boss was ignorant of the employee’s rights under the FMLA, and thought it acceptable to treat a medical issue like a performance concern.
The case serves as a helpful reminder that (1) all managers should be trained about the basics of the FMLA and its legal protections; and (2) managers should not be handling medical leave issues, and instead should be required to direct such situations to the appropriate person in human resources or benefits.
Michael Homans is a Labor & Employment attorney and founding partner of HomansPeck LLC. For more employment law updates, including news and links to important information pertaining to legal developments that may affect your business, subscribe to Michael’s blog, or follow him on Twitter @EmployLawUpdate.