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Knowing law's limits is important for employers and employees

New York state law requires employers to provide some compensation for employees during terms of short-term disability. Many might complain that the wage benefits called for under the law aren't much to write home about.

At the same time, federal law in the form of the Family Medical Leave Act could be considered even less generous. Eligibility is harder to achieve. The time an employee is allowed to take off is less and there is no wage benefit paid. One thing both state and federal laws assure is that employees making a short-term disability claim have protections against losing their jobs. But even that security isn't foolproof.

Finding where the line is drawn

Whether you are an employer or an employee, you need to be aware of the FMLA's limits. Employers have a right to be able to develop policies that protect their business interests. Employees have a right to protect themselves from unfair job actions. When disputes arise, an experienced attorney can help find the path to an optimal outcome.

The path is not always clear as a recent case out of Texas shows. A brief synopsis goes this way.

A woman who had received a poor performance review was put on a plan for improvement. Within days of that action, she left work and reported by email that she'd seen a doctor and would be filing for short-term disability under FMLA.

Several more days later, her employer heard the woman had attended a concert and sat in the company skybox. The boss thought that seemed inappropriate and asked to meet with the worker about it. She refused, saying she had to wait for her doctor to give the OK first. The boss insisted on hearing back from her by the end of the day. There was no response. And that's when the boss informed her she'd been fired.

The woman sued, accusing her employer of wrongful termination under FMLA, but a judge denied her claim. The judge said the employee's refusal to communicate could legitimately be interpreted as reflecting that the disability claim was invalid.

The key in the case was in the communication, or lack of it.

Source: SHRM.org, "Viewpoint: If an Employee Attends a Beyonce Concert While on FMLA Leave, Can She Be Terminated?," Jeff Nowak, Sept. 25, 2017

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