Lisa is a client of A Better Balance who initially reached out to our free work-family legal helpline. She wanted to share her experience as a healthcare worker who has struggled to care for her own health due to her employer’s abusive attendance policy.
Lisa has worked in healthcare for 26 years. She loves her work, including providing care for others when they need it most. Most recently, Lisa worked for a major provider of senior residences and care services. When COVID-19 hit, Lisa was a frontline worker, keeping her highly vulnerable patients safe and cared for. But when Lisa needed time off to care for her own health, her employer punished her under its abusive attendance policy.
Lisa has severe anxiety—a serious mental health condition that, on occasion, makes it impossible for her to work. When A Better Balance first spoke to Lisa last year, she told us that her employer was punishing her under its punitive, points-based attendance policy for taking legally-protected time off work to care for herself.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that gives some workers the right to time off work when they have a serious injury or illness. Lisa’s mental health condition qualified her to take job-protected time off under the FMLA; nevertheless, her employer punished her for her FMLA-covered absences by assigning her “points” under its punitive attendance policy. A Better Balance has previously called out major U.S. employers like Lisa’s for relying on abusively strict and overly harsh attendance policies that punish workers for medical absences, oftentimes in violation of federal and state laws.
Lisa’s treatment also raises serious concerns about disability discrimination, and the particular stigma that employees with disabling mental illnesses can face. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employees with disabilities (including mental health conditions) have a right to be treated the same as any other employee. They also have the right to changes in their workplace that will enable to them to keep working—including time off for medical treatment and recovery.
Instead of allowing Lisa the time off she was entitled to under the FMLA and ADA, Lisa’s employer punished her for her absences by reducing her hours and taking away some of her job responsibilities. Lisa became scared to call out from work when she needed to, even though she was approved to take leave under the FMLA. Shortly after we spoke to her for the first time, Lisa had to be absent due to her condition, and was fired.
“This retaliation took a mental and physical toll on my body that I literally felt sick almost every day I worked there for the last year,” Lisa said. “I feel if I don’t stand up for myself, this will keep happening to others.”
A Better Balance has filed a complaint alleging FMLA violations on Lisa’s behalf with the United States Department of Labor and a charge of disability discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. What happened to Lisa is part of an unfortunate pattern we’ve seen in the healthcare industry, where workers are not being given the time off they need to care for their own health—even when they have the legal right to do so.
A Better Balance will continue to fight for workers like Lisa. Workers who have experienced similar treatment are encouraged to call our free and confidential legal helpline at 1-833-NEED-ABB or visit our get help page.