May you require an employee on FMLA to attend a meeting?
Sometimes, according to the 11th Circuit
Ted was a police officer. During one of his assignments, he was attacked, which resulted in Ted getting post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While on restricted duty due to his condition, he did not attend training that would enable him to maintain his law enforcement certification.
Soon thereafter, Ted requested and was granted FMLA leave to care for his newborn son. While on this FMLA parental leave, Ted was ordered to report to a meeting with a police chief. Ted was terminated at the meeting because he no longer met the essential requirements of a police officer position due to his failing to get the retraining to maintain his certification for his position.
The termination didn’t sit well with Ted, and he sued. Part of his argument was that the employer interfered with his FMLA leave when it ordered him to report to the meeting with the chief. The employer, however, disagreed.
The court indicated that not all communications between the employer and employee during FMLA leave rise to the level of a violation of the FMLA. It went on to say that:
“Nothing in the FMLA indicates that it ensures 12 workweeks of undisturbed leave. To the contrary, regulations expressly allow an employer to contact an employee while he is on FMLA leave to discuss the employee’s status.”
The district court had held that the meeting in question was unrelated to work, did not require Ted to act as a police officer in any capacity, and amounted to only a conversation. Therefore, it did not rise to the level of interference.
The Circuit court agreed. It also agreed that the termination was not done in retaliation because Ted took FMLA leave. The employer contemplated Ted’s termination before he engaged in FMLA-protected activity. It also had a legitimate reason for terminating Ted — failing to comply with the certification requirements for his position. Therefore, it was not pretext.
Just how much employee disturbance constitutes interference continues to be a fine line which may be interpreted differently by different courts. This case, however, indicates that employers may mandate that an employee attend a meeting at the workplace. In this particular situation, the employee was physically able to attend, since he was not on FMLA leave due to his own condition. Therefore, the specifics of each situation still need to be considered.
Salem v. City of Port St. Lucie, 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 18-14923, October 8, 2019.
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.
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