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December 13, 2022
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In Corkrean v. Drake University, the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals said an employee with attendance and performance issues who exercises rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does not have protection against termination for reasons that are unrelated to FMLA leave. Here, an employee with multiple sclerosis came under scrutiny by the new dean of the university for performance and inconsistent attendance. The employee then requested and was approved for FMLA leave. The employee continued to miss work for non-FMLA reasons and without providing notice. As a result, the employee was counseled by the dean for both attendance and performance eventually leading to placement on a performance improvement plan. The employee repeatedly also complained that the performance and attendance counseling was harassment. Ultimately, the employee’s performance and attendance did not improve and resulted in her termination. She sued for violations of the FMLA and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The Court found the employee offered no evidence that the employer terminated her as a pretext for discrimination or retaliation for exercising her rights under the FMLA and the ADA. The employer had a well-documented record of her non-FMLA leave attendance issues as well as a months-long performance improvement process. Since the employer was thorough in separating the documentation of FMLA and non-FMLA, they were able to provide evidence that the employee’s termination was not unlawful. This case shows employers the value of well-documented performance and attendance issues as well as communicating those issues to the employee.
- Review procedures for documenting performance and attendance issues.
- Train appropriate personnel on documentation and communication processes.
- Review terminations involving employees on FMLA leave or ADA reasonable accommodations with legal counsel.
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