Court: Employers Have Right to Enforce Leave Policies

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Nearly half of all HR professionals say they’ve approved FMLA leave requests even though they believed the requests weren’t legitimate, according to a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey.

If you think employees are violating your policies, what can you do? One court ruled in May 2011 that you can fire such an employee - but first make sure you have the right policies in place.

The corporate office for the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the country’s largest telecom union, distributes a policy manual to employees that includes a sickness and absenteeism policy. CWA requires employees who accept wage replacement benefits while on medical leave to remain in the immediate vicinity of their homes.

In the case Pellegrino v. CWA, Denise Pellegrino spent two weeks at home, post-operatively and was on concurrent FMLA and paid sick leave - that was before she left home to go to Cancun, Mexico. According to CWA's sick leave policy, employees on leave may not leave their local area without written permission from the company unless seeking medical treatment or conducting "ordinary or necessary activities directly related to personal or family needs."

When CWA officials learned about Pellegrino's trip, they terminated her. She sued, claiming the termination interfered with her right to FMLA leave.

Although the court agreed Pellegrino's leave was protected, it found CWA had a right to enforce its leave policies.

CareWorksUSAsuggests the following to employers:

  • Have a clear sickness and absenteeism policy. CWA would not have been able to terminate this employee without a clearly written policy.
  • Distribute the policy to each employee. In this case, the court noted the employee in this case had received the policy.
  • Consistently enforce the policy. Consistently enforce the policy across your workforce.

(Pellegrino v. CWA, W.D. Pa., 5/19/11)

For more information, contact: 

Scott Vaka
Phone: 614-760-3536
Email: scott.vaka@careworks.com
Website: www.careworksabsence.com