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Termination for failure to meet pre-established standards did not violate the FMLA


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kwatlington

By Kyle Watlington

An employer’s decision to terminate an employee for failure to comply with internal record keeping policies while on medical leave did not violate the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) according to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. 

Here, the employee was a physician assistant. The employee started working for the employer in 2009 under a year-to-year contract. In 2011, the employer implemented new record keeping software to be used by employees. Employees were required to promptly update a patient’s medical information into the software after the patient’s visit. The employer believed quickly updating patient records was important for billing purposes, and also it allowed other employees to have access to current patient information. 

Although the employee was considered a competent employee when it came to working with patients, she was often unable to complete the record keeping procedures in the required amount of time. In March 2013, the employee met with several of her supervisors to discuss the record keeping issues. The employer told the employee to get caught up with her records and that she was to stay current for the next 90 days. If the employee was not compliant, then her contract would not be renewed when it expired. 

In June 2013, the employee broke her foot and took FMLA leave as a result. As of the date she took leave, she was behind on filing as many as 31 charts. During the leave, the employee performed some light work from home and explored the possibility of working in the office on a limited basis in order to save some of her paid time off. The employee however failed to catch up on her record keeping requirements. The day after the employee returned to work in July, she was informed that her contract would not be renewed due to the record keeping issues. As a result, the employee filed a lawsuit against the employer claiming it violated the FMLA. 

Under the FMLA it is unlawful for any employer to interfere with or deny an employee’s right to take leave. The employee claimed that the employer both interfered with her right to take medical leave and discriminatorily refused to renew her contract because she took medical leave. Specifically, the employee stated that requiring her to perform record keeping work while on leave violated the FMLA. 

The Court disagreed with the employee, saying that the FMLA does not ban an employer from asking an employee to voluntarily accept light duty assignments while recovering from a serious health condition as long as the acceptance is not a condition of the employment. Since the employee accepted the work without objection, the employer did not violate the FMLA. Furthermore, the court found that the employee’s termination was not directly related to the taking of medical leave and that the employer had no improper motive for the termination.

 

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