“Whoops” is no excuse under the Family and Medical Leave Act

Employers have to be very careful about terminating employees for abusing their family and medical leave. That’s according to a California appellate court in Los Angeles.  An employer had fired an employee whom it believed was using his leave to work another job. The employer turned out to be wrong, and the court held that it had to pay the employee damages.

Ordinarily an employer who discharges an employee whom it truly believes engaged in misconduct is not liable for wrongful termination. For example, an employer may fire an employee for spreading lies that another employee is sexually harassing her. The employer has not retaliated against her even if it turns out that she was right and the employer’s belief that she was lying was stupid. So long as its stupid belief is in good faith, it is not liable.

Termination for family and medical leave is different. The employer’s mistake cannot eliminate the employee’s right to leave. (But the employer can still terminate the employee for reasons having nothing to do with the leave).

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