If you have salespeople who take FMLA leave, drop everything and read this

You know it’s not that often that you read about a worker who prevails — before trial — on her claim that her former employer interfered with her ability to take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

But, I’ve got one for you after the jump.

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The plaintiff had worked for a cable company and its predecessors for nearly 20 years as an account executive. After a series of good years, she lost her biggest client and, thus, her overall sales suffered. In January 2012, she was placed on a Managed Action Plan or MAP, on which she remained for over a year. In Summer of 2013, the plaintiff took FMLA leave to take care of an ill parent. When she returned, her sales figures did not improve and she was fired.

The plaintiff then sued, claiming that her former employer interfered with her FMLA rights by terminating her employment on the basis of revenue figures that included data from the time period when she was on FMLA leave.

The plaintiff is penalized for taking FMLA.

Unlike a claim of FMLA retaliation claim, to prevail on an FMLA interference claim, there need be any showing that the employer displayed any discriminatory animus. Rather provided that an employee meets an the FMLA eligibility and notice requirements, all she needs to show is that her employer denied her FMLA benefits or interfered with FMLA rights to which she was entitled.

Here, the Court found that, yes, the time the plaintiff took off for FMLA did factor into the the company’s decision to terminate her employment:

Charter does not dispute that the MAP which Gostola was issued in November 2013 included revenue data from August, the month in which she was on FMLA leave. Charter likewise does not dispute that it was Gostola’s inability to reach her 60% revenue-to-projection goal for that MAP’s three month period which led to her progressing to a MAP II. The next month, when she failed to meet her MAP II goals, Gostola was terminated.

So, the lesson here is rather simple. 

Employees who take FMLA leave do not get any right, benefit, or position of employment other than any right, benefit, or position to which the employee would have been entitled had the employee not taken the leave. However, an employee who takes FMLA leave cannot be penalized for taking that leave either.

Thus, if you have employees, such as salespeople, who are measure by objective metrics, do not consider sales figures (or lack thereof) for employees who are on protected FMLA leave.