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FMLA and honest suspicion

The Family Medical Leave Act was created to allow employees to take time off from work to care for certain medical and emergency situations. Though it was designed to help workers in need, its usage has not always lived up to the intended purpose. There are times when employers in Idaho may need to check whether an employee’s time off under the FMLA is being used in conjunction with the reason for which it was actually requested. Some employees have been caught vacationing or otherwise abusing the use of FMLA.

What can an employer do?

Under the “honest suspicion” precept, employers have been granted some leeway to investigate the misuse of FMLA. If an employer suspects that an employee is using FMLA other than for which it was intended, the employer can conduct various surveillance methods to verify the speculation. Where that suspicion is present, it could negatively impact that employee’s rights under the FMLA up to and including termination of employment.

Employers play a vital role

Under the FMLA, the employee who uses its leave is entitled to have their job back upon returning to work or a job similar to it. If the employee is found to have misused FMLA leave, they can be stripped of those rights. However, while it is within employment law to probe suspicions of fraudulent FMLA requests, those actions should be subsequent to the discovery of activities that counter the FMLA’s stated objectives. Fraud should not be assumed prior to the request being approved.

The FMLA grants up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to those who need it. Employers can help guard against the exploitation of the program for illicit purposes and keep it as a lifeline for those who have a genuine need for it.