Employment Law Blog

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Aug 24, 2015

Attending church may be medically necessary

Leave LawsTermination & Resignation 

In an interesting twist, a welder has alleged that she was unable to work at all on Sundays in order to attend church and related social activities, but rather than requesting a religious accommodation she requested the time off under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Oregon Family Leave Act (OFLA) in order to relieve her alleged severe stress and anxiety. 

In an interesting twist, a welder has alleged that she was unable to work at all on Sundays in order to attend church and related social activities, but rather than requesting a religious accommodation she requested the time off under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Oregon Family Leave Act (OFLA) in order to relieve her alleged severe stress and anxiety.

The employee had received multiple certifications from her doctor stating that it would be beneficial for her to have Sundays off to attend church and related social activities. When the company asked for clarification as to why this was medically necessary, the doctor simply reiterated that it was needed.

In addition, the company offered many possible religious accommodation ideas that would allow the employee to work occasional Sunday overtime shifts while still attending religious services. The ideas were all rejected by the employee, who stated that she did not need a religious accommodation but had a medical issue that required medical leave. Eventually, the company requested a second medical opinion regarding the medical need for leave to attend church. The company’s chosen doctor disagreed that the leave was medically necessary. The company denied the leave, failed to ask for a tie-breaking third medical opinion, and terminated the employee for absenteeism. The company and the welder now each get to argue whether the leave was “medically necessary” in front of a jury (Atwood v. PCC Structurals, Inc., D Or, June 2015).

Tips: The company did the right thing by offering multiple religious accommodations, but got into trouble when it accepted the medical opinion of its own doctor over that of the employee’s doctor. FMLA and OFLA both have a process for requesting a third opinion when the employee’s health care provider disagrees with the health care provider chosen by the company.

Second and third medical certifications can be tricky under FMLA and OFLA, so be sure to review any questions with your Vigilant employment attorney. For additional information, see our Legal Guide, “FMLA: Certification Procedures.” In addition to issues related to family and medical leave laws, this case raised questions about the law on religious accommodations. You can download a copy of our Religious Accommodation Legal Guide for help with navigating religious accommodation in the workplace.

You can find more articles regarding leave laws and termination at our blog.

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