Harassment of an Employee on FMLA Leave Raises Damages Issues

By Rudman Winchell Attorney

By Anne-Marie Storey

A court in a jurisdiction outside of Maine was faced with an issue involving the potential damages available to an employee under the federal FMLA based on a claim that the employee was harassed by his supervisor for taking time off and experienced a worsening of his medical condition because of that harassment.   

The employee had been experiencing problems with gastro esophageal reflux and took  available FMLA time for treatment.  After that time was exhausted, he requested and was given additional time off for the same condition, including eventual surgery.   He claimed that the surgery was caused by his supervisor’s retaliation against him for taking the FMLA leave in the sense that the harassment caused increased stress, high blood pressure and stomach reflux which then led to the need for the surgery. 

As a result of this conduct, he alleged damages under the FMLA to account for his claim that he was  permanently unable to work following the surgery.  The court held that the FMLA did not allow for such damages because he had already exhausted his FMLA time when the alleged exacerbation occurred.   However, despite not having a cause of action under the FMLA for those claimed damages under these particular facts, the novel argument is important because it could potentially raise an issue of a claim for workers’ compensation benefits or possibly some form of violation of the ADA. 

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