Employee Who Abused FMLA Leave Around the Holidays Properly Terminated


Employers often complain that they see an uptick in the use of sick leave and FMLA leave around the holidays. In the case of Southwest Airlines, however, one employee clearly took FMLA misuse a bit too far.

Douglas Rydalch was a reservation sales agent for Southwest. When Southwest closed its reservation center in Salt Lake City where Rydalch worked, it transferred him to Houston. However, his family remained in Utah. In 2004, Rydalch injured his back, and these issues continued through 2007. Curiously, Rydalch’s back issues tended to flare up on the days just before or after his previously scheduled time off -- 35 times, to be precise. What’s worse, he often used FMLA leave on important dates and holidays. In 2007, for example, he used FMLA leave in conjunction with July 4, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Years Eve and his own birthday. I’m not kidding.

Southwest caught onto the pattern of Rydalch's absences and began monitoring his FMLA use. It learned that he had a habit of taking flights to and from Utah on the days he requested FMLA leave. On Christmas Eve 2007, Rydalch's supervisor learned that he again had taken FMLA leave and later learned that Rydalch had been out of town when he called in his absence. Upon further investigation, the supervisor determined that Rydalch booked a trip to Utah from December 22 to 27. Thereafter, it was not surprising when Rydalch also called off for a bad back on December 26 and 27, which were his next two scheduled work days. Southwest suspected that Rydalch misused FMLA leave in violation of the Company's attendance program. After an internal hearing was held regarding his FMLA use (pursuant to the bargaining agreement governing Rydalch's employment), Southwest terminated Rydalch's employment because he abused FMLA leave.

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Franczek Radelet P.C. on:

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