When an employee returns from protected leave, firing them soon after can look like retaliation. But at the same time, an employee on leave doesn’t have immunity if there’s a good reason for their termination.
Falsified job qualifications
This is the dilemma that Oakwood Healthcare in Michigan faced.
Michelle Bailey worked in the HR department at Oakwood. While she was out on maternity leave for three months, some of her colleagues took over her duties. During this time, they discovered several problems with how she’d been doing her job.
This discovery caused Bailey’s supervisor to take a closer look at the qualifications on her resume. Instead, the supervisor found Bailey had two resumes on file.
The first resume was from two years prior, when Bailey applied to a different position at the company. The more recent resume had been submitted for her current position. But a comparison of the two found some major inconsistencies. Bailey had exaggerated her experience and qualifications on the second resume to appear better suited for the job she currently had.
Between this discovery and the realization that Bailey hadn’t been performing her job well, Oakwood terminated her when she returned from maternity leave.
Employer acted reasonably
Bailey filed a lawsuit, claiming pregnancy discrimination and retaliation. She argued that “falsifications” was too strong a word, saying she simply “embellished” her resume. Bailey went on to say Oakwood didn’t follow its normal disciplinary procedures or give her a chance to correct her performance problems before firing her.
While the court said the “timing of Bailey’s termination was unfortunate,” and the “manner in which the decision was communicated was clumsy,” it still sided with the company, saying Oakwood acted reasonably.
This case shows that if an employer has a good reason to fire someone, it shouldn’t shy away just because the employee took protected leave. However, leave does complicate things, and companies should take extra care in making sure they have everything documented to back up their decisions.
Cite: Bailey v. Oakwood Healthcare Inc., U.S. Crt. of App. 6th Cir., No. 17-2158, 4/23/18.