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How Much Fun Can Employees Have on Leave?

Michelle Jackson worked for BNSF Railway for over 10 years when she relocated to Texas for a promotion. She struggled with the increased workload and new job requirements. Her supervisor put her on a performance improvement plan. Feeling so upset about the plan, Ms. Jackson had some sort of breakdown and she told her supervisor that she could not work. Ms. Jackson requested short-term disability. Over that first week of her leave, the supervisor tried unsuccessfully to get in touch with Ms. Jackson about some work-related issues that required information from her. 

About one week had passed when Ms. Jackson attended a Beyoncé concert in BNSF’s suite. Following the concert, HR questioned why she thought it was appropriate to attend a concert while not at work. In response, Ms. Jackson stated that her doctor had not yet released her but she would be in contact as soon as she was released. HR asked to speak to her by the close of business about the concert issue, but she did not respond as requested. BNSF terminated Ms. Jackson based on her work performance, her attendance at the concert and her refusal to communicate. 

The federal district court dismissed Ms. Jackson’s FMLA interference claim against BNSF. The employer was able to demonstrate legitimate business reasons for terminating Ms. Jackson. BNSF reasonably believed that she fraudulently claimed to be disabled because of her attendance at the concert, and when BNSF tried to investigate, she did not cooperate. Even if BNSF was wrong about its assessment, it had a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for terminating her.