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Chef's termination leads to FMLA claim

A man who was fired from his job at a restaurant has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against his former employer, alleging that his firing violated the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA provides for up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave from one’s job in order to attend to a personal medical emergency or a medical emergency for a member of one’s immediate family. Most people are familiar with the FMLA as it pertains to parental leave to care for a new baby, but it is often utilized for many other reasons as well. 

In this case the man needed time off to care for his wife and children after his wife suffered from a sudden stroke. He obtained approval from a human resources director to take leave under the FMLA and was absent for four days when he first received a complaint from his boss. His boss, a famous chef known for appearances on the Food Network in the past, asked him for a firm date when he would be returning. When the man could not provide that right away and instead offered to figure it out within two weeks, the boss told him he was fired.

Because of the nature of family emergencies it is common for people who take leave under the FMLA to need a flexible return date, at least in the immediate aftermath of whatever has happened. As a result, there is a need for a reasonable amount of flexibility and good communication by both employee and employer so that there are no misunderstandings that could lead to a wrongful termination.

Source: New York Post, "'Chopped' winner fired cook for taking care of dying wife: lawsuit," Julia Marsh, April 7, 2014

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