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Detecting FMLA Abuse

Dealing with employees who abuse FMLA can be difficult. Letting abuse run rampant, however, can impact business productivity and put a damper on company morale (as present employees often have to pick up the slack of someone on leave). Employers who detect abuse must proceed with caution because it is very easy to run afoul of regulations.

Under the FMLA, it is unlawful for any employer to interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of any right provided by the Act. Further, employers cannot use the taking of FMLA leave as a negative factor in employment actions, such as hiring, promotions, or disciplinary actions. Violating these provisions can lead to employee lawsuits for interference or retaliation. Having said that, an employer is not helpless in thwarting employees’ ill-intentioned leaves.

If there is suspected abuse, it should be documented in detail. Who reported it? Is the source credible? Is there evidence (i.e., photographs)? Employers should refrain from overzealously playing detective or prompting other employees to snoop on a coworker – doing so may violate privacy laws. However, if there is a reasonable belief or honest suspicion that abuse is occurring, an employer may begin a confidential investigation, perhaps with the aid of private investigator. Surveillance of an employee should only be used in the most egregious situations and should always be conducted by a professional. Be sure to allow the employee the chance to refute the allegation and present his or her side of the story before taking any adverse action against him or her.

FMLA leave is a right for covered employees, but it does not act as a shield for misconduct nor does it prohibit termination of an employee who abuses the terms of an FMLA leave. You can terminate an employee on FMLA leave, but caution must be used. If you are an employer and detect abuse, it is highly recommended you contact an employment attorney about how to proceed so as to avoid costly lawsuits alleging interference or retaliation.

Ben Riddle

Benjamin L. Riddle is an associate in the Louisville, Kentucky office. Mr. Riddle is a member of the firm’s Litigation team, where he focuses his practice on employment law, commercial disputes and personal injury matters. Mr. Riddle can be reached at (502) 327-5400, ext. 2305 or briddle@mmlk.com

This article is intended as a summary of newly enacted federal law and does not constitute legal advice.

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