In Dotson vs. Pfizer, decided by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, a company was found to have violated the FMLA when they fired an employee who was, at the time, on intermittent leave for an adoption. The court acknowledged that under the FMLA an employee cannot take intermittent leave for adoption unless the employer agrees. However, if the employer, as in this case, allowed the employee to take intermittent leave without objection, this is all the agreement that’s needed. Pfizer claimed that the employee was fired for malfeasance discovered while he was on leave.
This case offers two valuable lessons:
- If you don’t follow FMLA procedures, you can’t argue that FMLA leave is unwarranted. We encourage you to get proper medical certifications and other documentation before granting any leave. The courts have made it difficult for employers to change their minds afterward – a legal doctrine that’s known as “estoppel.”
- Many employers only “discover” just how bad an employee is during their leave. This presents a dangerous trap. Sound management practices should identify employee shortcomings without the person having to go on leave for them to surface. The company would have done better to warn Dotson about his malfeasance, put him on a performance plan, and allowed him to finish his leave.
Click here to read the case.