Document efforts to ease return from FMLA

October 12, 2011
in Employment Law

Judges don’t want to be in the HR business and generally hesitate to second-guess what look like legitimate personnel decisions. But when employers get sloppy and don’t document their decision-making proc­­esses, things can get dicey.

Consider, for example, what happens when an employee experiences work stress and starts taking FMLA and other leave. In one recent case, the employer was smart enough to carefully track its efforts to both accommodate an employee and get her back to work—even as she claimed higher-ups were making life so hard for her, she had no choice but to quit.

Recent case: St. Louis County ­em­­ployee Ellen Quinn complained that a county commissioner had sexually harassed her. The parties negotiated a settlement in which Quinn ab­­solved the county of liability in ex­change for a promise that she would only be terminated for cause for the next seven years.

Almost immediately, Quinn started turning in projects late. Then she got a new supervisor who had been involved in the original sexual har­assment investigation. Things went downhill from there, with Quinn going out on FMLA leave for stress and anxiety. She never returned and claimed she had been constructively discharged.

The court threw out Quinn’s case after the county showed it sent her several letters encouraging her to take all the leave she needed to get better and then come back to work. It also approved a reduced schedule as an accommodation and encouraged her to discuss options.

The court concluded that there was no evidence the county forced her out. Nor was there any evidence that the county interfered with her right to take FMLA leave. She had used all 12 weeks and simply didn’t return to work. (Quinn v. St. Louis County, No. 10-3332, 8th Cir., 2011)

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