A Polish beer festival sounds like a fun way to spend an afternoon, but one employee’s attendance ended up costing her her FMLA leave — and her job.
Sara Jaszczyszyn was approved for intermittent FMLA leave by her employer, Advantage Health Physician Network, for back pain she experienced as a result of a car accident she’d been in 10 years prior.
In medical certification, Jaszczyszyn’s doctor said Jaszczyszyn would be out for a projected length of time and that she was “completely incapacitated.”
Shortly thereafter, Jaszczyszyn took time to attend Pulaski Days, a local Polish heritage festival. A friend then posted nine photos of Jaszczyszyn drinking beers and smoking at the festival on Facebook.
When one Jaszczyszyn’s co-workers saw the photo online, she immediately forwarded them to her supervisor. (The court notes that the worker “felt a little betrayed or duped” because she was covering for Jaszczyszyn only to see photos of her partying on Facebook.)
Advantage developed an investigation plan and outlined steps the company should take next.
That culminated in Jaszczyszyn’s supervisor and another upper-level employee calling Jaszczyszyn in to the office for a meeting, where they confronted her about the photos and gave her a chance to explain herself.
“The court documents explain: When asked to explain the discrepancy between her claim of complete incapacitation and her activity in the photos, she did not have a response and was often silent, occasionally saying that she was in pain at the festival and just was not showing it … Jaszczyszyn repeatedly failed to respond at all, let alone offer … a justification”
Jaszczyszyn was fired, and she turned around and sued, claiming Advantage retaliated against her for taking FMLA leave.
The court had two words for Jaszczyszyn: No way.
The court said that the company was well within its right to fire Jaszczyszyn.
It went on to state that the company had an “honest belief” — in other words, that it truly believed in the reason that it was firing Jaszczyszyn and that that reason wasn’t FMLA-motivated — that justified its decision.
In closing, the court wrote:
Advantage “rightfully considered workplace [FMLA] fraud to be a serious issue,” and its termination of Jaszczyszyn because of her alleged dishonesty constituted a non-retaliatory basis for her discharge … Advantage’s investigation was adequate and turned in large part on Jaszczyszyn’s own behavior at the termination interview, which she does not address at all. She did not refute Advantage’s honest belief that her behavior in the photos was inconsistent with her claims of total disability.