Employer’s “Honest Belief” Defeats FMLA Retaliation Claim

On January 31, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit joined the Seventh, Eighth and Tenth Circuits in holding that an employer’s honest belief that its employee was misusing FMLA leave can be enough to defeat a retaliation claim under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

The court in Capps v. Mondelez Global, LLC concluded that an employer can fire an employee whom it truly believes has misused FMLA leave, even if the employer’s honest suspicion of FMLA fraud turns out to be incorrect. The court affirmed that plaintiff Frederick Capps failed to prove he was fired by his employer Mondelez in retaliation for taking FMLA leave, that the company interfered with his rights under the FMLA or violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) by failing to accommodate his disability. The court also held in the precedential opinion that a request for intermittent FMLA leave may qualify as a request for a reasonable accommodation under the ADA, but rejected the employee’s claims because the employee was granted the leave he sought. 

While this case provides some comfort to employers, it also emphasizes the importance of policies providing that employees may be disciplined or terminated for submitting false documentation or otherwise fraudulently using FMLA leave. Employers must also bear in mind that a request for FMLA leave may very well constitute a request for an ADA accommodation as well, triggering the employer’s obligation to engage in the good faith interactive process in an effort to accommodate the employee upon the employee’s return to work.

Learn more at: http://www.natlawreview.com/article/lessons-learned-fmla-protected-employees-can-be-disciplined-event-misconduct