When FMLA Time Off Affects Your Performance Review

Managers don't always know the law behind FMLA.

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Suzanne Lucas

I was out [under] the Family Medical and Leave Act for four weeks. I have now been back to work for four weeks, however I have doctor's appointments three times a week. I try to schedule them as late in the day as possible. However I was placed on a performance improvement plan (PIP) yesterday, due to my attendance and performance. Now, with being out for four weeks, I understand that my performance and my team's performance would have gone down.

I have been with the company for 10 years, and I love my job. I reviewed my time card for 2009 and I did not go over my PTO [paid time off] time. I don't believe that I have ever had a write up for performance or attendance since I have been with the company. I have supporting documentation for the performance issues, where I have asked for assistance, and none was given. I know I need to go in there and keep my head up, and do my job to the best of my ability.

There is a good chance that your doctor's appointments should be covered under the Family Medical and Leave Act, or FMLA, as well. FMLA can be taken in chunks (like you did with four weeks off), or intermittently, as with medical appointments. You can also do both. So, stick that in the back of your mind for a moment.

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In addition to providing you with time off, FMLA requires that you not be punished for taking it. Therefore, the four weeks you were gone should be irrelevant to any performance evaluation. Now, in reality, it's very difficult for managers to wrap their heads around how to do this, and most of them don't even know that they should. Your human resources department should know, but they often don't understand either.

And this is not entirely their fault. It's a little complicated.

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First, you need to talk with whoever arranged your first FMLA leave and tell them, "My doctor's appointments are part of the same illness. Because I was approved for FMLA for the leave, this should also be approved as intermittent FMLA. What do you need me to do to get this taken care of?" Go in with the assumption that it will be granted and you'll have a position of strength. (Don't be snotty or condescending, though. Just firm in your position.) Your doctor will undoubtedly need to fill out additional forms.

Speak with your manager about the PIP. Explain that you are doing everything in your power to be the stellar employee you've always been, and you're anxious to work with her to improve your performance. However, because your absence fell under FMLA, you cannot be punished for that. Again, be firm but not accusatory.

If you've always been a good employee, they may well have done this because they feel like it's required. They don't want to give you special treatment. If someone had been taking off early three times a week to go bowling, they would be placed on a PIP. Therefore, they figure, because you leave early three times a week, you must be placed on a PIP. (Give them the benefit of the doubt.)

Chances are, they'll recognize you are right and fix things. And remember, even if things aren't fixed, it's in your best interest to meet the conditions of the PIP the best you can.

Suzanne Lucas has nine years of human resources experience, most of which have been in a Fortune 500-company setting. She holds a Professional in Human Resources certificate from the Society for Human Resource Management. She blogs at Evil HR Lady.