3d Cir: No FMLA Protection for Employees Who Lie

The FMLA requires an employee to receive (unpaid) leave for certain family and medical reasons. Employers must provide certain notices to employees, determine employees’ eligibility for FMLA leave, and track leave time in accordance with the FMLA’s complex regulations. A recent opinion from the Third Circuit, though, makes clear that the employer isn’t the only one obligated to follow the FMLA’s many rules.

In Prigge v. Sears, the employee applied for FMLA leave, telling his employer that he was suffering from prostrate cancer, which had been in remission. In fact, though, the employee needed the leave for seek treatment for Bipolar Disorder. About 8 months after he was hired, he was hospitalized due to depression, at which time he confessed to his employer the real reason he had been missing work.

Before returning to work, the employee was supposed to provide documentation to support his absences. Although he provided some of the medical certification, he never complied fully with his employer’s request for information. He was subsequently terminated and later filed suit.

In defending against the lawsuit, the employer offered two reasons for terminating the plaintiff-employee: (1) the employee’s failure to provide the required documentation; and (2) the false reasons offered by the employee as the basis for the leave.

The district court ruled in favor of the employer, finding that, although the employee may have been entitled to the leave that he took had he been honest about the reasons for it, he became ineligible for the protections of the FMLA when by lied about his illness. Without the protections of the FMLA, there was no basis for liability and the case was dismissed.

Here’s what this case teaches us–employees must tell the truth to be protected by the FMLA. And by “truth,” the court means, the “whole truth,” including the reason that leave is needed, as well as the underlying illness.

Prigge v. Sears Holding Corp., No. 10-3397 (3d Cir. June 23, 2011).