Cancer is a terrible thing to be diagnosed with. You can beat it once, twice, three times, but as many times as you beat it there is still the risk that it will come back.
Unfortunately for Tracie Mills, an employee of KPH Consolidation Inc., which operates as Kingwood Medical Center, her cancer recurred. While neither the cancer nor the treatment disabled Mills enough to stop working, she filed for periodic leave for weekly visits to the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, according to The Southeast Texas Record. Once this leave was approved, Mills claims she was fired for using it.
The hospital, however, states that she was fired for rudely answering a call over the call light system, according to the Record. Mills claims this is merely a cover for her retaliatory firing. What are her rights — and yours — under the Family and Medical Leave Act?
The FMLA allows for employees of companies with more than 50 employees, or those that engage in or affect interstate commerce, to take a period of leave for medical or family reasons. In general, medical leave is available when a person has a serious health condition that requires hospital care, absence from work, treatment for a chronic condition, or multiple treatments.
Once a period of leave is over, the employer must restore the employee to their former job, or to an equivalent job with equal pay and benefits. Any decisions regarding what type of job to give to a returning employee, or whether to keep the employee on staff, cannot be based on the employee’s application for or taking of leave.
Here, it seems like the timing of Mills’ firing and the difficulties Mills experienced in getting substitutes for her shifts point to a decision made based on her FMLA leave. On the other hand, if Kingwood can show that Mills did in fact act rudely, and that single action is cause for firing, then Mills would have no claim.
While being fired for a single rude call seems a bit over the top, there doesn’t really need to be a reason to fire someone in Texas because the state is an “at-will” employment state. The court will need to weigh which story seems more plausible in deciding whether Tracie Mills was fired for taking her lawful FMLA medical leave.