Employee who lost his temper also lost his FMLA case

11/21/2023

Employer prevails in court

One March, Christopher injured his hip and back while off duty and took three months of leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to recover. While he was on leave, a coworker visited to check on him.

During the leave, Christopher was promoted, and was returned to a different location, which was planned before he took leave. One day, while on probation for his new position, he failed to report to work. He told his supervisor that the stress and constant overtime was impacting his home life. He requested Employee Assistance Program (EAP) information since he also suffered from mental health issues.

About a month later, Christopher had a verbal disagreement at work. He lost his temper with a supervisor over mandatory overtime, was subsequently disciplined, and faced termination. As a result, Christopher outlined some personal issues he was dealing with and noted he was seeking mental health counseling through the EAP.

Instead of terminating Christopher, his supervisors demoted him. Christopher, however, said he would not return to work demoted. He was consequently terminated.

The suit

Christopher sued, arguing in part that the employer interfered with his FMLA rights by:

  • Ordering a coworker to stop by his house while he was on leave and
  • Neglecting to inform him that he could take additional leave for his mental health.

He also claimed the employer retaliated against him for taking FMLA leave by:

  • Reassigning him to an undesirable location after he returned from leave,
  • Demoting him, and ultimately
  • Terminating him.

The employer claimed that it restored Christopher to his position, and even promoted him. Christopher ended up agreeing that the coworker came to his home regarding a scheduling matter. The employer stated that Christopher did not ask for any leave regarding his mental health, and that the type of promotion he got was routinely associated with a location change.

The ruling

In finding for the employer, the court found that Christopher was terminated almost four months after his leave ended, so there was no connection between the leave and the termination. The employer fired Christopher for insubordination when he lost his temper, not because of his leave.

Finally, while Christopher mentioned his mental health issues, he had not actually requested leave or another accommodation and therefore did not trigger his employer's duty to notify him of his FMLA rights.

Candler v. Sheriff, Walton County, 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 22-13698, November 6, 2023.

Key to Remember: Unless an employee actually requests time off, an employer's FMLA obligations are not triggered.

This article was written by Darlene M. Clabault, SHRM-CP, PHR, CLMS, of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. The content of these news items, in whole or in part, MAY NOT be copied into any other uses without consulting the originator of the content.

The J. J. Keller FMLA Manager service is your business resource for tracking employee leave and ensuring compliance with the latest Federal and State FMLA requirements.