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Fighting a wrongful termination suit under FMLA

The Family and Medical Leave Act, also called FMLA, permits employees to take up to 12 weeks of protected unpaid leave during a one-year period in order to attend to the care of the actual employees or some of their closely related family members. Though some conditions do apply as to which employers are subject to FMLA, individuals in New York and across the country who take FMLA must be allowed to return to their jobs in the same position or a similar position to the one that they left.

An employee of Nestle USA Incorporated was fired after taking FLMA leave to care for his father. He sued Nestle under the law for what amounted to his believed wrongful termination. A federal district court ultimately dismissed the man's claims and granted summary judgment to Nestle.

The facts of this situation are interesting. The man had worked for Nestle for approximately two years before requesting FMLA leave to take care of his ailing father. During the prior two years the man had received some disciplinary punishment for dishonesty and absenteeism. His supervisor became suspicious of his conduct after the man asked to take a floating holiday and had the request denied, only to immediately request the same day off with FLMA leave.

Nestle investigated the man's requests and followed up with his father's doctor only to find out that the father had not had appointments on the days the man took off. The company later learned that the man had attended entertainment events during some of the alleged FMLA time. As a result of Nestle's findings, the man was fired.

While this case does demonstrate an instance where an employee may have taken advantage of FLMA leave, it is important that employees who are eligible for FMLA understand that taking leave to care for themselves and qualified others is their right under federal law. Employers who fail to allow their employees to take FMLA or who fire their employees for using FLMA leave can be held legally accountable for their actions in employment discrimination and wrongful termination cases.

Source: Bloomberg Law, "Judge Finds Nestle Had Honest Belief Fired Worker Used FMLA Leave to Golf, Eat," Jay-Anne B. Casuga, August 15, 2013

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