Employers must adjust production goals when employees take FMLA leave


Employees cannot be penalized for taking FMLA leave

Marianne had been performing her job well. Company growth expanded her workload with shorter deadlines. In 2018, Marianne requested and took leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The leave started as continuous and changed to one or two days of intermittent leave per week in October 2018.

During the leave, company growth continued. Brandy, Marianne's supervisor, told Marianne that she had no choice but to meet the accelerated goals. This created problems, as Marianne was unable to, and did not meet all the goals and deadlines because she took leave.

In May 2019, a month after Marianne stopped taking intermittent leave, Brandy and Sharon from HR started an informal performance improvement plan (PIP). The PIP was not about job performance, but, rather, to tighten company deadlines further and to help keep Marianne organized.

Marianne promised to meet the new timeline, and Brandy acknowledged that she didn't know if doing so was even possible. Brandy did not warn Marianne that if she did not meet the PIP requirements, her job would be in jeopardy. Marianne met most, but not all, of the deadlines over the next few weeks.

Employee was fired and sued

Despite this, the company fired Marianne in early July 2019, two months after she stopped taking FMLA leave.

Marianne sued, arguing that the company fired her because she took FMLA leave. In court, the employer argued that it gave Marianne all the leave asked for, and that it fired her for poor job performance.

The court found that the company interfered with Marianne's use of leave by holding her to standards that were as demanding as when she worked a full-time schedule, and then fired her for falling short of the higher goals.

The court indicated that the FMLA does not require employers to adjust their performance standards for the time an employee is actually on the job. But it can require that employers adjust performance standards to avoid penalizing an employee for being absent during FMLA leave.

Marianne was available for work only 80 percent of the full-time schedule, and the reason for the 20 percent shortfall was because she took protected leave. Therefore, the employer was to adjust its expectations to comply with the FMLA.

Wayland v. OSF Healthcare System, Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 23-1541, February 28, 2024.

Key to Remember: Employers may not hold employees on FMLA leave to the same production expectations as when they did not take the leave, even if the employee takes intermittent FMLA leave.

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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