Timing is Everything

When it comes to discipline and termination, another Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) case has shown us that timing is everything. Tsige v. Marriott Hotel Services., Inc. (S.D. Md. 2019). In Tsige, a federal judge ruled that food and beverage employee Almaz Tsige might be able to prove to a jury that she was suspended and fired for taking FMLA leave.

Tsige, who worked at the Gaylord hotel in Maryland, was suspended less than one month after submitting her leave request, the suspension occurring within two weeks after returning from that leave. Further, less than a month after her suspension, Marriott terminated her employment altogether. Marriott’s asserted reason was that Tsige was insubordinate in regard to a manager’s direction of cake placement in a display case. Tsige countered that she had concerns about the cake being frozen.

The judge stated Tsige’s leave was a protected activity and that the close timing of her leave to her suspension and termination might allow a jury to connect the two and conclude that Marriott acted in violation of the law.

Regardless of the ultimate outcome, this type of scenario challenges employers all too frequently. When an employee has recently engaged in protected activity, such as taking FMLA leave or filing a complaint of harassment, it is important to give pause and consideration before moving forward with discipline. Any action taken must be consistent with company policy and also align with company practice and former actions.

Don’t hesitate to contact Employer’s Council with any challenging or concerning performance management matters. We are here to support our members with objective and experienced advice.