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Employee fired after medical leave says boss made his illness worse

The office is a stressful environment, and that stress can contribute to sickness or chronic illness, even in the beautiful climate of South Florida. But many Fort Lauderdale residents are left to wonder whether stress caused by a demanding boss is grounds for legal action.

In a recent federal appeals court case, a fired Motorola employee accused his former employer of violating the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Furthermore, he alleged that stress caused by his supervisor's harassment was responsible for aggravating the medical condition that had caused him to miss work twice before.

After working for Motorola for nine years, the man took his allotted 12 weeks of FMLA leave to undergo treatment for a condition called gastroesophageal reflux. He suffered from severe heartburn.

While he was away, his position was eliminated. However, he was reassigned upon his return and his pay and benefits were unaffected.

He had to take leave again several weeks later for esophageal surgery. This time, he was on leave for about five months. He returned to work but took medical leave for yet a third time a few months later. After failing to return, he was eventually fired from his job.

Most FMLA lawsuits allege retaliation because an employee took FMLA leave. However, when this man sued his employer, he claimed that it was necessary to take medical leave a third time because his supervisor's harassment and badgering had exacerbated his medical condition.

A judge ultimately ruled against the man. Because the employee had used up his available FMLA leave during his first absence, the court did not consider whether the supervisor's behavior had been a contributing factor to his medical problems associated with his third leave.

However, the judge did say that an accusation like this could "be relevant to a claim based in tort law." The fired employee was not successful in this lawsuit, but similar claims may be deemed legitimate in a different lawsuit.

Source: HR Morning, "Employee's court claim: 'My boss made me sick'," Tim Gould, Nov. 18, 2011

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