Court: Worker laid off days after FMLA leave ended can pursue claim
- An employee fired just days after returning from Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave can continue with her suit, a federal trial court ruled, finding that she had raised triable issues under both the FMLA and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (Rumph v. Randazzo Mechanical Heating & Cooling, Inc., No. 17-10496 (E.D. Mich., Nov. 8, 2018)).
- Casey Rumph worked several stints for Randazzo Mechanical Heating & Cooling, one of which included a layoff during the economic downturn. In December 2014, she was hired to work as an account manager. Rumph told her manager that she had a previous opioid addiction, depression, anxiety and ADHD and that she needed to see her doctor monthly. A few months later, Rumph was assigned a new supervisor due to restructuring and when that supervisor was copied on an email exchange with the company's benefits contact about getting her Suboxone prescription filled, allegedly commented that she could not "fathom what type of prescription would cost that much." Rumph alleged that about this same time, the company's CFO learned of her previous addiction and that his attitude toward her changed. She then took FMLA leave to care for her mother and, after returning to work but missing two more days, was told that her position was being eliminated. Her supervisor testified that she was terminated as a result of: (1) her chronic problems with attendance and punctuality; (2) her inability to perform some of the functions of the new position; and (3) there not being enough work to keep her busy.
- The trial court denied the employer's motion for summary judgment. The court said Rumph had established that her medical ailments were disabilities, that she was qualified for the job and that her employer was aware of her disabilities. As for the FMLA claim, the court also said there was a genuine dispute as to whether Rumph was reinstated to her prior position; "A reasonable jury could find that Rumph was not 'restored to an equivalent position' since she was terminated days after she returned to work," it said.
Training for supervisors can be critical in keeping workplace interactions from developing into expensive litigation. Experts say supervisors and front-line managers are a leading cause of employee claims, especially those involving the FMLA.
Part of that training can include ways to ensure decisions and actions aren't based on biases. And while some say that bias can never be truly erased, employees can be taught ways to lessen its impact.
As the opioid crisis continues to grow and the unemployment rate remains at historically low levels, more employers are grappling with employee and applicant substance abuse issues, including how best to deal with those receiving treatment for prior addiction.
Experts recommend developing workplace policies and procedures to prepare for such situations. Shira Wilensky, national practice leader, health and well-being at OneDigital, recently told HR Dive that some employers are updating their benefits and policies to limit coverage of opioids, expand coverage of alternative pain treatment and increase payment for substance abuse and addiction programs.