Westlake Polymers Corp. of Houston won the first round of a lawsuit filed by a worker fired for excessive absenteeism from the company's Lake Charles, La., plant. David Hansen, Westlake's vice president of human resources, said June Manuel was fired in February 1994 after missing seven weeks of work for an infected ingrown toenail. He said Manuel's firing followed the company's procedures.
Manuel sued Westlake claim-ing that her infected toe was covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act. A U.S. District Court judge in Lake Charles rejected Manuel's bid to be reinstated with back pay. The judge ruled that she should have told Westlake about needing FMLA-protected leave.
Manuel has appealed the District Court decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans, which is scheduled to consider the case on Aug. 7.
The suit claiming her leave should have been protected by the FMLA came ``late in the game'' after her firing, Hansen said.
``We're very confident that the actions we took in this case were appropriate,'' said Hansen. ``We have an attendance control program at that facility, and she had been counseled and disciplined about her absenteeism, and was given multiple opportunities to correct the situation.''
The Family and Medical Leave Act provides workers with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-guaranteed leave for family-related medical emergencies, adoption and childbirth. But some companies complain that workers abuse FMLA, using it for an excuse to take time off work.
Several plastics processors contacted about FMLA said they have had no problems with abuse, and most had programs already in place when the FMLA was enacted.
Custom injection molder Security Plastics Inc. in Miami Lakes, Fla., also has its own program, said Nadine Conesa, human resources supervisor.
``So far, no one has requested leave under the FMLA because we offer a paid leave program already,'' she said.
Rich Cook, president of Cascade Engineering Inc. in Grand Rapids, Mich., said that company has had relatively little experience with the FMLA because Cascade has its own program covering family-leave issues.
Hansen said Westlake's position is not that Manuel abused the system, but whether or not it was applicable to her condition when she made the claim.