Job protection when injuries, illnesses occur

Many employees in Wisconsin have their jobs protected by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act when needing to take time off work for certain reasons. One company and its employee are going to court because of a possible FMLA violation after the worker was fired when leaving because of a sudden illness.

A truck driver employed by the freight company YRC Inc. experienced chest pains after an argument with his supervisor. The man believed he could be having a heart attack and asked a co-worker to alert their supervisor that he was leaving. Even though the co-worker did alert the supervisor, employees are required to directly tell a supervisor when leaving work under company policy. Since the policy is well-known, YRC treated this as a “voluntary quit” and started the termination process the same day.

The employee filed a suit alleging his FMLA rights were interfered with, but the company claims it did not know he was using FMLA leave when terminating him. YRC could not get the suit thrown out as a judge determined that FMLA protection applies as soon as there is notice that an employee could be suffering from a serious aliment. FMLA does not need to be mentioned when giving notice, and the employee does not have to give the notice directly. This means it was YRC’s job to see if the FMLA applied in this instance.

While companies can create their own code of conduct and rules, they may not be enforceable in instances where they clash with state or federal laws. Under the FMLA, eligible employees have the right to unpaid leave because of an injury or illness that the worker or a loved one suffers from or the birth or adoption of a child. An employee whose rights have been violated may want to meet with an employment law attorney to see what steps should be taken.

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