In Workplace Law, Many Obligations Fall on Worker

Article excerpt

Byline: blue chip

I spend much of my work day helping employers meet their legal obligations to their employees. That means on any given day I am likely to face at least one frustrated employer who believes that workplace protections have tilted so far in favor of employees that the owner can no longer effectively operate the business.

While I understand that frustration, a closer look at two of the more complicated workplace laws - those dealing with disabled workers and employees requiring medical leave - reveals that the pendulum has not swung as far as one would think.

On the contrary, those laws have evolved to impose meaningful responsibilities on employees as well, and if an employee fails to meet those responsibilities, he may lose his legal protections.

In this and next month's editions of blue chip, we will identify several obligations employees face under the family leave and disability laws.

The first relates to notice. Under state and federal law, employers are required to post workplace notices advising employees of their rights. Those notices are intended to advise employees that if they want to preserve their workplace rights, they must take action to exercise those rights when the need arises. One of the first things an employee must do to invoke those rights is notify the employer when the employee faces a situation that could potentially give rise to legal protections.

For example, if an employee is absent because of illness, a prudent employer would ask the employee enough questions to determine whether the illness is protected under state and federal family leave laws. If an employer fires an employee for excessive absenteeism without bothering to figure out whether those absences are protected, the employer is probably going to face a lawsuit for unlawfully interfering with the employee's family leave rights.

But the law does not require an employer to initiate a conversation with the employee to determine whether an absence qualifies as protected. …