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Court says FMLA protections extend to employer's expectations

When you have to stay home from work due to illness, your employer might assume that you will not attend to that day's work and will assign those duties to another employee to cover while you're gone. But perhaps your employer expects that you will simply make up the time as soon as possible and will hold you accountable for your sick day's worth of work.

This inconsistency in expectation becomes more challenging when workers are forced to leave work for an extended period of time due to illness, injury, to take care of a newly born child or to take care of a family member in fragile health.

When workers are considering whether or not to file FMLA claims on the grounds that their employer has not properly respected their rights under the Family Medical Leave Act, it can be challenging to fully understand just what employer actions qualify as a breach of duty under this law. However, a recent case reinforces the idea that FMLA protections extend to workers in matters regarding their employer's expectations.

In the recent FMLA case, a salesman who had never been criticized for his performance was evaluated under a new set of goals just after he informed his employer that he had developed some cardiac problems. After taking FMLA leave, the salesman was told that he was not adequately meeting his new goals. He was fired soon after essentially for failing to set up sales calls from his sick bed.

The court overseeing this case ruled that the salesman had protections under the FMLA that prohibited his employer from retaliating against any legitimate FMLA-related performance issues. In essence, the FMLA insists that employers adjust their expectations of workload and performance in accordance with an employee's legitimate leave.

Source: Business Management Daily, "Avoid FMLA suit: Cut slack for leave-takers," Dec. 5, 2012

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