Workplace Culture

‘Honest Suspicion’ of FMLA Abuse is Justification for Firing: Court

By

Aug. 9, 2012

An employer who has an “honest suspicion” a worker is abusing his Family and Medical Leave Act leave is justified in terminating him, says a federal appellate court.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago said in its ruling in Daryl Scruggs vs. Carrier Corp., that inconsistent documentation provided by Scruggs was enough to justify his termination.

According to the Aug. 6 ruling, Scruggs, a 21-year employee of the Farmington, Connecticut-based Carrier Corp. at its Indianapolis plant, had sought intermittent FMLA leave to assist in his mother’s care on five occasions between 2004 and 2007.

In 2006, Carrier Corp. implemented a plan to combat suspected FMLA abuse among its employees that included hiring a private investigator. After finding no evidence against Scruggs on two occasions, on July 24, 2007, the investigator did not observe Scruggs leave the house except to pick up his mail, when he had asked for leave to care for his mother.

Evidence Scruggs provided to support his claim that he had assisted her that day was inconsistent, and he was terminated, according to the ruling.

He filed suit, charging the company with interference with his right to reinstatement and to continue to take intermittent leave to care for his mother, and with retaliation under the FMLA.

In its ruling, the appellate court referred to its 2008 ruling in Vail vs. Raybestos Products Co., in which the 7th Circuit said Crawfordsville, Indiana-based Raybestos had an “honest suspicion” an employee was abusing her FMLA leave by working for her husband’s lawn mowing business when she claimed she suffered from migraines, and ruled in the employer’s favor.

Filed by Business Insurance, a sister company of Workforce Management. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.

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