When a local newspaper fired one of its veteran journalists, the people in charge may have anticipated that the reporter would use her social media skills to go public with her story. It’s rather unlikely that the people at The Register-Guard in Eugene, Oregon, expected the case to garner national attention. However it has been picked up by websites including Salon.com because the reason reportedly given for the termination was that the employee deleted work e-mails while on maternity leave.
However, the reporter, who had worked for the paper since graduating from college, says the problems began when she told her editor that she was pregnant. She says she completed her Family and Medical Leave Act documentation last October when she learned she was expecting so that she could take time off as needed during her pregnancy.
Several weeks later, she says she started getting performance reviews with criticisms she had not received in her 13 years with the paper. When she was asked to sign a “performance improvement plan,” she initially refused and went to her union. She signed a revised plan arranged between the union and the newspaper. In February, she began her leave.
The following month, after checking her e-mail remotely on two separate days, she says she was told to come in to explain her actions. She says the paper offered her a buyout deal that she found “really insulting” and refused. The woman, who is still pregnant, says she was told to come in and pick up her things at the front desk. She says felt like she was “getting punched in the stomach.”
A representative for the union noted, “To my knowledge no one has ever been disciplined before for using their company email accounts during leaves of absence.” The paper is not commenting, citing that this is a personnel issue.
When performance issues, real or alleged, bump up against family and medical leave protections, the situation can get complicated. While most employers don’t use their workers’ requests for leave against them, some do. When California employees believe they have been discriminated against or wrongfully terminated based on a request for leave, or because of actions they took during a leave, they can and should learn more about their rights under both the federal FMLA and California family and medical leave regulations.
Source: Eugene Weekly, “Reporter Fired for Checking Email?” Camilla Montensen, Apr. 03, 2014