Calling an employee a “liability” can create liability

The employer in the recent Sixth Circuit case of Demyanovich v. Cadon Plating and Coatings just learned this, when the court sent the plaintiff’s case to a jury trial.  Pithiness aside, this FMLA/ADA case holds some important lessons for employers.  The employee in question suffered from congestive heart failure, necessitating numerous leaves of absence.  When he came back from his most recent leave, he requested light duty work and that he not be assigned overtime.  Denying both requests, the employer’s Vice President told the employee he was a “liability.”  When the employee sought an additional leave of absence, the VP stated he did not have to grant any FMLA leave, as the employer did not have enough employees to be subject to the Act’s requirements.  Thereafter, the employee was terminated for excessive absenteeism.

While the trial court granted summary judgment on the FMLA and ADA claims, the Sixth Circuit reversed on both.  With respect to the applicability of the FMLA, the court noted the employer was affiliated with a much larger company and therefore was a “joint employer” for purposes of the FMLA.  Regarding the ADA claim, the employer’s summary rejection of the requests for accommodations was enough to permit the plaintiff to proceed to trial.

Takeaways:  (1) even if you don’t think the FMLA applies to your workplace, check with counsel to be absolutely sure; (2) always engage in the interactive process when it comes to requests for reasonable accommodations.