Everyone is guilty of allowing body language to convey a message, whether consciously or unconsciously. However, a recent court case proves that body language also can pose a legal risk. In Cimino v. Magee-Womens Hosp. of UPMC, W.D.Pa Civil Action No. 15-1145, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 98946 (June 27, 2017), a Pittsburgh hospital was having financial troubles and decided to eliminate a head of nursing position held by Lynn Cimino. Before the announcement regarding elimination of her position was made, Cimino put in a request for intermittent Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave.
Cimino’s leave request was approved, but her supervisor asked that she schedule doctor visits early in the mornings, if possible. This request was accompanied by sighs, shrugs and other body language that indicated her supervisor’s disapproval of her taking leave. Shortly after this encounter, Cimino was terminated and as a result, she sued her employer alleging FMLA retaliation and FMLA interference.
The court found the retaliation claim failed because the decision to terminate was made well before Cimino exercised her FMLA rights. However, the court allowed Cimino’s FMLA interference claim to go forward holding that a reasonable jury could find that her supervisor’s overall demeanor and alleged displeasure with her leave request to be sufficient evidence to conclude that Cimino was discouraged from taking the intermittent leave to which she was entitled.
The takeaway? Be sure to train administrators and supervisors to handle FMLA leave requests in a supportive and positive manner, keeping their personal feelings – and body language – in check.