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Fraudulent Use of FMLA Leads to Lawful Termination

Masoud Sharif and his wife were both employees of United Airlines. They took a scheduled European vacation from March 16 through April 4. Mrs. Sharif had approved vacation for the entire vacation time but Mr. Sharif did not have approved time off for March 30. He called into United to request intermittent FMLA leave for that date relying on the certification already in place for his anxiety disorder.

United Airlines noticed that Mr. Sharif had only used FMLA leave for the lone shift he was scheduled to work during his long vacation. They initiated an investigation. Upon his return, Mr. Sharif was questioned about his absence on March 30. He did not answer directly, first denying being scheduled that day and then claiming to suffer a panic attached after not being able to get a seat for a flight back to the U.S. Unable to produce any evidence to back up his story, United terminated his employment for fraudulent use of his FMLA leave and his dishonesty during the investigation. He sued, claiming that United was retaliating against him for his use of FMLA leave.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Mr. Sharif. Fraudulently obtained leave was not protected by the provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act. The Court stated, “While a company may not deny valid requests for leave, and an employer cannot use allegations of dishonesty as a pretext for subsequent retaliation, it is equally important to prevent the FMLA from being abused.” The Court did have some discussion about the company’s obligation to investigate but found that United had made “a reasonably informed and considered decision” in deciding to terminate Mr. Sharif.