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Greenwood Connections board discusses leave of absence requests

A Greenwood Connections nursing home employee is asking for a leave of absence under the Family Medical Leave Act.

The request comes three months after the city of Menahga settled a $55,000 lawsuit with a former employee, whose leave of absence request wasn't granted by the council.

To avoid future lawsuits, Greenwood Connections Administrator Clair Erickson said legal opinions were necessary before making a decision.

"It's not the same as the one we dealt with before, but there are enough similarities," Erickson told the Greenwood Connections advisory board Tuesday. "I felt that it was very important to get some legal advice."

This latest request comes from an employee who, at the time of her leave, will not have worked for the city-owned entity for the 12 months required to take a leave under FMLA.

The employee is asking for a six-week maternity leave beginning March 2010.

The employee's name wasn't disclosed due to privacy protection under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Erickson said what he got from the attorney's opinion was the board should grant the request even if she doesn't fully qualify for it.

Although the employee doesn't meet the requirements under the FMLA, the employer should consider job performance, the cost and effort to hire a replacement and any hardship granting the leave would impose on the employer, said League of Minnesota Cities attorney Jana O'Leary Sullivan.

"While the City may not have any legal obligation to provide leave, there still may be good reasons for granting the leave request," O'Leary Sullivan wrote in a letter to the board.

Councilwoman Kim Rasmussen, who sits on the advisory board, asked if a policy could be drafted regarding employees' leaves, before taking action.

"I'm all for a woman taking time to take care of a baby," Rasmussen said. But said she's concerned about setting some kind of precedent, that may not be in the city's best interest, when other employees requesting all sorts of time off.

"There could be other situations other than somebody who's having a baby," Rasmussen said.

She also emphasized that since the employee's leave, if granted, doesn't start until March, there is time to get a policy written.

"I'm not sure we can write a policy thick enough for every situation," Erickson responded. "The policy would have to be so extensive in order to do that."

Additionally, other board members said the employee is looking for some assurance that she'll have her job back.

"I give her credit for planning this far ahead and caring enough about her job to want to come back," board chair Carolyn Pulju said.

Board member Donna Anderson said she would vote for a motion to grant the leave under FMLA.

Rasmussen argued that a leave under FMLA would not be appropriate since the employee doesn't qualify for it.

Pulju said that Greenwood Connections is a place where the elderly are cared for; therefore employees should also be taken care.

"How do you make a motion and vote on that?" she asked. "Sometimes you have to go with heart not head."

At the end of the discussion, Erickson pulled out the Greenwood Connections policy handbook, which stated that as long as the leave is less than three months, it doesn't need board approval, which means the facility's administration will make the decision.