Tread carefully when employees have medical issues

On Behalf of | Dec 8, 2021 | Firm News |

It is common for employees to miss work because they are ill or injured. Usually, this involves some sick days or a workers’ comp claim. However, there are also long-term health issues that make it more challenging to work. It can involve a standard shift or an extended absence because of a non-work-related illness. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of non-paying yet job-protected leave, protects those more prolonged absences.

This can be a tremendous imposition for a company with a production-based environment. It can push work onto others, or it does not get done. Nevertheless, the employer cannot dismiss the employee protected by FMLA. Ideally, the employee should notify the employer if they take FMLA leave, but judges will often rule that protections apply even if the worker neglects to do it.

Walmart faces discrimination lawsuit

For example, a three-judge panel at First Circuit Court recently unanimously ruled against Walmart because the worker had potentially valid claims under the FMLA, workers’ compensation and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The people greeter was absent more than 20 times for doctors’ visits and complications caused by medication needed after an injury.

According to the plaintiff, management was intolerant of the injury and accommodations and retaliated against the employee for her inconsistent work schedule. The lower court ruled in favor of the employer, but the Circuit Court revived the worker’s disability discrimination and harassment claim. The higher court’s three-judge panel unanimously agreed that medication side-effects qualified as authorized grounds for an absence. The panel also concurred that there was retaliation against the worker.

A cautionary tale

Generally, policies at large companies consider all applicable employment laws, so management’s actions were surprising and against the law. Small to medium-sized business owners may also open themselves to potential lawsuits or penalties for violating FMLA or other worker protections.

Those with questions about a potential issue or lawsuit often can get answers from attorneys who handle employment and business disputes and litigation. They can provide answers about whether the employer has the legal right to dismiss a worker unable to perform their duties.