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A partner at a prominent employment law firm in Ohio fired off a scathing text message that created some reputational ripples within the legal community. A female associate, who had recently returned from maternity leave, announced she had accepted a position at another law firm. Shortly after the announcement of her exit, the partner sent a text message to her. The partner expressed his disgust that she took a salary “while sitting on you’re a**” and stated “rest assured regarding anyone who inquires, they will hear the truth from me about what a soul-less and morally bankrupt person you are.” The text also indicated that the partner sought to fire the associate during her maternity leave after he heard she was interviewing at other firms. The initial LinkedIn post sharing the text stated that the associate was asked to work during her leave.
A screenshot of the text was circulated. It was shared on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook groups, and text message groups. The law firm was named and eventually, the partner who sent the text was named. The law firm initially issued a statement calling the text “inappropriate and unprofessional” (although that statement was later removed from the firm’s LinkedIn page with another statement announcing that the texting partner had been let go from the firm).
In addition to the professionalism issues within the text message, the implication that the employee would be required to work while on FMLA leave is a dangerous one. While employers are allowed to contact employees during FMLA leave to inquire about the employee’s status and intent to return to work (and to ask for minor tasks to be completed, such as locating files, sharing passwords, or taking an occasional call from the employer), employers are not permitted to require any type of material assignment by the employee.
This situation is a reminder that the FMLA is filled with legal and reputational landmines that employers need to be aware of when administering their FMLA obligations. If you have not trained your managers (or partners) on the duties and responsibilities of the FMLA, there is no better time than the present to kick off those training opportunities. Of course, the attorneys in the National Labor & Employment Section of FMG are ready to help guide employers and ensure compliance with FMLA and other relevant leave laws.