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Q&A: We heard a rumor that an employee out on FMLA was seen exercising at a park. How should be handle this situation?

Question:

We heard a rumor that an employee out on FMLA was seen exercising at a park. How should handle this situation?

Answer from Margaret, PHR, SHRM-CP:

I recommend proceeding with caution so that you don’t rush to judgment. First, it sounds like the information you’ve received is only a rumor and may be unreliable. Second, exercising (at the park or elsewhere) could very well be a legitimate use of leave under FMLA. For example, their doctor may have recommended moderate exercise as part of the treatment. Before confronting the employee, I would recommend that you review the information on the employee’s medical certification for FMLA and determine whether the alleged exercise appears to be inconsistent with the information on the certification.

If it appears the exercise may be inconsistent with the medical certification, I would recommend that you investigate the situation. As with any investigation, it is important that you allow the employee to provide their side of the story before reaching any conclusions. You can let them know that you have received reports that they may be engaged in physical activities during leave and ask them to confirm the extent of their current injuries or illness and how they prevent them from doing their job. If the employee cannot or will not provide an explanation or admits the fraudulent use of leave, then you’d have grounds for disciplinary action.

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Margaret holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Portland State University and a Professional Certificate in Human Resources Management. She has worked in a variety of HR roles in a multi-state capacity. Margaret regularly attends seminars and other continuing education courses to stay current with new developments and changes that affect the workplace and is active in local and national Human Resources organizations.

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