FMLA Gone Wrong: Worker Takes Leave Too Far

Bad employee
Here’s proof: Some people will sue employers (or ex-employers) for anything. Can you believe this guy thought he had an FMLA interference case against Southwest Airlines?
Douglas Rydalch was a sales agent for Southwest. When he was transferred from Salt Lake City to Houston, his family remained in Utah.
Rydalch has a back injury that would flare up on occasion, and when it did he’d take leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  The problem was his injury often seemed to flare up just prior to, or just after, his regularly scheduled time off — especially around the holidays.
For example: He used FMLA leave in conjunction with July 4, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. As if those weren’t enough red flags, he also took time off around his birthday.
In total, he took FMLA leave in conjunction with regular days off at least 35 times. Smell a little fishy to you?
Southwest caught on
Something definitely did to Southwest, which eventually began to monitor his FMLA use.
It found he took flights to Utah on the days he took leave.
After Rydalch once again took leave on Dec. 26 and 27, 2007, Southwest terminated him for abusing FMLA leave and violating the company’s attendance policy.
Rydalch then turned around and filed a lawsuit against Southwest for FMLA retaliation and interference.
Case didn’t last long
As you’d expect, a federal court quickly threw out Rydalch’s lawsuit.
The court’s reasoning: After monitoring the timing of Rydalch’s leave requests, Southwest had a very strong reason to believe that he was abusing his FMLA privileges.
Therefore, the court ruled Southwest was well within its rights to terminate Rydalch.
Helping move the case along was Southwest’s thorough documentation of Rydalch’s leave requests.
Takeaway: This case serves as a good reminder to tell supervisors to keep accurate records of employee leave requests. That way when leave abuse is suspected, your company will be able to show in court it has legitimate reasons for taking action against offending employees.
Cite: Rydalch v. Southwest Airlines