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Vacationing while on FMLA -- good idea or bad?

In 1993, Congress enacted the Family and Medical Leave Act, giving employees who are eligible the right to take up to 26 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave in a year for certain medical, family and military-associated reasons.

Employers may lack understanding of an employee's decision to take leave if it is suspected that said employee is abusing the leave. One instance might be if they learn that their employee has jaunted off on vacation.

Two court cases offer the following scenarios:

In the first case, an employee took FMLA leave in order to be a caretaker for her terminally ill mother, who had confided an end-of-life goal to a social worker. She had always longed to take a trip with her family to Las Vegas.

The employee was denied her request for unpaid leave to accompany her mother as caretaker on the trip but claimed not to have knowledge of the denial until she returned and was terminated for unexcused absences.

The employee sued. The court sided with her because she had been the caretaker for her mother during the Vegas trip, and it was irrelevant where the care took place. An Appeal's Court upheld the decision.

The second scenario involved a woman on three months' leave due to leg and lower back pain. Her Facebook account during that three month period showed photos of the woman on a Mexican trip holding two grandchildren in her arms and riding in a boat.

The woman's co-workers showed the pictures to her employer, and she was fired for violating a company policy prohibiting dishonesty. She lost a lawsuit that she filed when the court upheld her termination.

At the heart of the matter appears to be the nature of the employee's activities while on leave and whether they conflict with the stated reasons for the leave.

If you are facing termination for taking family leave, a Missouri employment law attorney may be able to provide clarification regarding employee rights and the circumstances surrounding your separation from employment.

Source: Columbia Daily Tribune, "Can you vacation on FMLA?" Katie Loehrke, Apr. 05, 2014

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