Termination for Undiagnosed Health Problems

By James Hatch

Apr. 9, 2007

Does an employee displaying health-related problems and who provides his or her employer with sufficient notice of a serious health condition qualify for the protections of the Family and Medical Leave Act?

   That was the situation the court was confronted with when David Burnett, an employee at a Chicago-based property management company in a position that required heavy lifting, had not yet been diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2003 but had disclosed, over a four-month period, a series of health problems to his employer. Burnett was discharged in early 2004 because of alleged poor job performance caused by his illness.

   The Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago recognized that a bare assertion of sickness is insufficient to receive the FMLA’s protections and that the Americans With Disabilities Act did not apply in Burnett’s case. But the court ruled that Burnett’s series of disclosures of health problems to his employer were sufficient to proceed with allegations that Burnett’s employer had interfered with his rights and retaliated against him by firing him when he attempted to leave work one day. Burnett v. LFW Inc., No. 06-1013 (7th Cir. December 26, 2006).

    Impact: Firing an employee who discloses a serious health-related problem may violate the FMLA. Consideration should also be given to applicable state employment discrimination laws to make sure that there are no similar prohibitions against discharging employees who disclose a series of health problems.

Workforce Management, March 12, 2007, p. 8Subscribe Now!

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