publications full of ideas
Termination of Employee for FMLA Abuse Affirmed by Fourth Circuit

11.21.2016

FMLA abuse is an increasing problem oftentimes leaving employers searching for options. However, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals gave employers a win in Sharif v. United Airlines, Inc., when it affirmed an employer’s decision to fire an employee who lied about his need for FMLA leave.

The Plaintiff, Mr. Sharif, and his wife were United Airlines employees. They scheduled a multi-week vacation. United approved the entire block of vacation time for Mr. Sharif’s wife, but it did not approve all the time for Mr. Sharif. Instead, United scheduled Mr. Sharif to work a shift in the middle of his planned vacation.

On the morning his shift was to begin, Mr. Sharif requested intermittent FMLA leave for a panic attack. United had previously approved a request by Mr. Sharif for intermittent FMLA leave for his anxiety. United granted the request, but when it later learned Mr. Sharif used FMLA leave during the week he had previously requested vacation, it suspected fraud and opened an investigation. United determined Mr. Sharif lied about his need for intermittent FMLA and terminated his employment. Mr. Sharif then sued United alleging the company retaliated against him for using FMLA leave.

The court dismissed Mr. Sharif’s claim, noting that while it is important for employers to grant valid leave requests, it is equally important for employers to be able to prevent FMLA abuse. Despite Mr. Sharif’s allegation that United did not conduct an adequate investigation, the court found that United had “no obligation to pursue additional investigation when it had more than ample reason to believe it had been lied to.”

Mr. Sharif also argued that United’s decision to terminate him for skipping one shift was extreme and unfair. Rejecting this argument, the court said, “courts are not a ‘kind of super-personnel department weighing the prudence of employment decisions.’” The court held the employee’s fraud against United justified the adverse action.

This case serves as a reminder that employers may legitimately enforce conduct rules and take adverse action against employees for rule violations and dishonesty even when the employees have engaged in protected activity, such as requesting leave under the FMLA. As this case demonstrates, however, a terminated or disciplined employee may bring a lawsuit alleging unlawful retaliation. It is therefore critically important for an employer to thoroughly investigate suspected employee misconduct and to make informed decisions supported by the facts found in the investigation. An employer should avoid taking adverse action against an employee based on rumor and speculation. Finally, it is always advisable for an employer to consult with employment counsel before taking adverse action against an employee who engaged in a protected activity and is suspected of misconduct.

Caitlin Goforth, an attorney no longer with Poyner Spruill, was the original author of this article.

Physical Address: 301 Fayetteville Street, Suite 1900, Raleigh, NC 27601

related information

what's new at the firm

Poyner Spruill partner Named Fellow of Leadership Council on Legal Diversity

3/15/2017

“It’s an honor to help build a better and more diverse legal profession,” said Gul. “A more diverse legal profession opens doors to all Americans, draws upon the strengths of all Americans and helps protect the liberties and rights of all Americans. The Leadership Council on Legal Diversity is making important progress toward the goal of building a better and more diverse profession. I’m delighted to be part of this effort.”

Daniel Brader, Creditors' Rights & Bankruptcy Lawyer, Joins Poyner Spruill LLP

3/13/2017

Family Law in a Nutshell Webinar

3/2/2017

Join us for an instructional webinar on Family Law on March 2nd from 11:00am-12:00pm. Poyner Spruill divorce attorney Steve Epstein will explain the fundamental components of divorce, child custody, child support, alimony, equitable distribution, and alienation of affections. He will also answer questions submitted by attendees.

Join us for a breakfast discussion - Why have over 300 businesses formed captive insurers in NC

2/15/2017

Protect Your Business and Preserve More Income. You are invited to a panel discussion exploring what captives are, when you should consider setting up one, how the tax code can help the captive pay for itself, and more.

NCTA Lunch & Learn: Advertising Law 101 for Tech Marketing Professionals

2/14/2017

Advertising Law 101 for Tech Marketing Professionals This presentation will educate attendees on the "need-to-know" basics of advertising law. Marketing professionals in the Tech Industry regularly navigate issues that require a familiarity with truth in advertising, disclosure and endorsement rules for social media marketing, and privacy law - just to name a few. Knowing the basics of advertising law can insulate a company from a host of sanctions, fees, and other consequences.