I love baseball.
I love the sport so much that, in the Nowak family, we are taught that America’s favorite pastime was formed in the story of Creation somewhere between the placement of the stars and Adam’s rib.
As a lifelong Chicagoan, I long for spring as a survival tactic after a long winter.
And with spring comes spring training. Last week, I enjoyed a little slice of baseball heaven, as our family traveled to Arizona, in part, to catch a few days of spring training. The crack of the bat, the pop of the catcher’s glove, the youthful cackle of professional baseball players competing in the game of their childhood.
Ah, the priceless sounds of spring.
One morning during our trip, my son, Luke, and I camped out for several hours behind a Chicago White Sox practice field with about 25 other die-hards to catch a glimpse of our players a few feet away. Moments into our morning, however, it became clear that three to four strangers in the group had no interest in our hometown heroes. These gents came with boxes of baseball cards in tow, looking for a quick autograph on a player’s baseball card so they could shop the card for as much as the the market would bear. It didn’t take long to figure out these peddlers quickly were deemed persona non grata on the practice field. Players avoided them, some scowled at them.
For a moment, the innocence of baseball was lost. After all, we were simply a dad and his son searching for an unblemished, up-close glimpse of the successors of Ruth and Gehring honing their craft before a long season. For a brief time, a few rotten apples ruined the moment for the rest of us.
Don’t Be “That Guy”
Like baseball, a few rotten apples ruin the FMLA for the rest of us.
When it comes to the FMLA, don’t be the person who:
- Fails to identify an employee’s need for leave. At a minimum, maintain an absence notification policy that requires an employee to call into an actual person or to a call-in line to report their absence and need for leave — all within a certain period of time. Even better, require two calls — one to report the absence generally to the manager, and another to an employer intake line or a third-party administrator handling calls on your behalf. At the end call-in requirements, make clear that the employee is expected to explain why they could not follow the call-in procedures on occasions when they do not follow them. This protects against an employee claiming in the termination meeting that the absence from three months ago actually was FMLA leave and not unexcused absence for which you are terminating them. If the employee does not follow these call-in requirements and does not identify an “unusual circumstance” as to why he could not follow your call-in procedure, the leave is not covered by the FMLA and is unexcused. Also, include clear language in your FMLA and other leave policies about how you expect your employees to communicate with you regarding the need for leave of any kind.
- Reacts inappropriately to an employee’s request for FMLA leave. If I had a nickel for every manager’s (poor) reaction to an employee’s request for medical leave, I would be one rich FMLA puppy. Remember when I told you the story about the manager who terminated an employee while she was in the hospital, even though her son maintained constant contact with the boss? Yeah, don’t be that boss. Remember, too, the manager who actually put into an email a justification for terminating an employee: because she submitted a request for medical leave. Yeah, don’t be that boss either.
- Badgers employees during their FMLA leave. Can you make sporadic calls to an employee on FMLA leave to transition work or ask to pass along institutional knowledge? Sure, these won’t lead to any FMLA violation. But as a general rule, an employee on leave should be fully relieved of their work and not asked to perform work while on leave. So, leave them alone!
- Blabs about an employee’s medical condition to others. Remember a few years back, I told you the story of a manager who learned of an employee’s medical condition and then proceeded to: a) blab about the medical condition at a meeting involving other employees; and b) joked about the condition and made obscene gestures about the employee among other employees? Don’t be that boss.
- Don’t Automatically Terminate employment after FMLA leave ends! When an employee exhausts 12 weeks of FMLA leave, it does not mean that the employee transitions into unprotected leave. At that point, we must consider our ADA obligations in determining whether additional leave is required as a reasonable accommodation to help the employee return to work. Instead of wondering, “Is this the chance to terminate the employee?” our thoughts should focus on, “What can we reasonably do to help this employee return to work?”
- When you terminate your employee (for unexcused absences), think long and hard before you contest their unemployment compensation. As a general rule, the employee you just canned doesn’t sue you because they believe you broke the law; they believe you treated them unfairly. And when you contest their unemployment comp benefits claim because you’ve got some spite leftover from their employment, you only further cement their belief that they were treated unfairly as they headed out the door. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying their termination was unjustified. [Remember, I am on your side.] But it simply give them another reason to sue you, instead of facilitating an exit where you never hear from them again. Don’t believe me? Then believe my friends, Jon Hyman and Suzanne Lucas, who know much more than I do!
In the meantime, go White Sox!