Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Think Twice Before Traveling While on Medical Leave!

In a case somewhat oddly involving a union, the Communications Workers of America (CWA), an employee, Denise Pellegrino, filed suit alleging Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) interference after she was fired for traveling to Cancun, Mexico while on medical leave. There are a few facts unique to this case that may render different results under a different scenario but the Pennsylvania federal district court ultimately upheld the termination on the grounds that companies have the right to create and enforce leave policies, to the extent that they do not abridge an employee's rights under the FMLA and that Pellegrino would have been terminated anyway, even without a written paid sick leave policy.

CWA had a written paid sick leave policy that required employees to get examined by a doctor of CWA's choosing and to remain in the immediate vicinity of their homes while on sick leave. Pellegrino pursued the paid leave and then left to Mexico without informing CWA. The court held:

No reasonably jury could find that an employer acts illegitimately or interferes with FMLA entitlements when that employer terminates an employee for taking a week-long vacation to Mexico without at least notifying the employer that her doctor had approved the travel or that she would be out of the country.

While it may seem perfectly ok to travel while on sick leave because a vacation is the complete opposite of work, employees ought to review their handbook and policies and even consult with human resources before jumping on a plane and assuming traveling is allowed.

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