BUSINESS LAW: The fish aren't biting

2014-02-22T16:08:00Z BUSINESS LAW: The fish aren't bitingJames L. Jorgensen Times Business Columnist
February 22, 2014 4:08 pm  • 

The Better Government Association recently reported on an employment-related case, which is worth reviewing.

A high-ranking Illinois employee was a professional fisherman. He progressed upstream through the professional fishing ranks and competed at the highest level.

The employee participated in various four-day tournaments. On these occasions, he did so on his vacation time.

The employee was under a doctor’s care for stress. He sought, and was granted, Family and Medical Leave (FMLA) for his serious health condition.

While on leave, the employee participated in fishing tournaments, competing for prize money. When this was made known, there was public pressure to fire the employee.

When pressed, the employee had what at first seemed to be a whale of an explanation. He claimed that his doctor ordered him to go fishing in order to reduce his stress.

In fact, his doctor did recommend he attend fishing tournaments. But did this mean that he could participate, and earn money, while on FMLA leave? Did the employer have to accept this excuse, hook, line and sinker?

The answer lies in the FMLA regulations. They provide that if an employer has a uniformly-applied policy governing outside or supplemental employment, such a policy may continue to apply to an employee while on FMLA leave.

The state of Illinois had this type of policy. It provided that an employee could not seek FMLA leave for the purpose of seeking or taking employment elsewhere.

It is important for employers to have these types of policies. Note that if the employee had merely attended fishing tournaments, there would not have been an issue. However, it was fishing for prize money, a violation of the employer’s policy, which resulted in him being up to his gills in problems.

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