The legal principle in this case is interesting; the facts more so. The legal principle first. The court held that an employer can have a policy requiring employees calling out sick to stay at home unless the employee otherwise notifies the department. Corbin v. Town of Palm Beach (S.D. FL, January 23, 2014). The Town of Palm Beach, FL had such a policy; the plaintiff, a firefighter/paramedic for the Town, called out sick but did not stay at home or otherwise notify his employer.
Now the facts, as reported by the court. Between 8 a.m. August 2 and Saturday, August 6, plaintiff was scheduled to work one day, Friday, August 5. On August 2, he rented a car to drive to his grandparents’ home in Macon, GA. The rental agreement indicated that he would return the car on Saturday, August 6. Plaintiff called out “sick” on Friday, August 5 and spent that day at Six Flags Park. He said he stayed in Macon until late Friday because he was sick and, as a result, could not drive back to Florida.
On Friday, August 5, plaintiff’s supervisor made a “verification visit” to plaintiff’s residence. He rang the doorbell; no one answered. He called plaintiff on his cell phone; no one answered. He called plaintiff’s wife on her cell phone; the wife answered and told the supervisor plaintiff was home, sick and asleep. The supervisor asked to speak with the plaintiff.
Plaintiff came to the phone and said he was sleeping when the supervisor had called him. The supervisor told plaintiff that at that moment he was in plaintiff’s driveway and directed him to come to the door or window or “shake a blind” so he could verify plaintiff was home. Plaintiff declined his supervisor’s requests. Their call got disconnected.
Following that, Palm Beach detectives monitored plaintiff’s home to determine whether he was there. On Saturday, August 6, the supervisor knocked on plaintiff’s door and rang the doorbell. No response.
On Saturday evening, plaintiff’s wife and their two children came home. Plaintiff’s wife told detectives that plaintiff had been home sick for two days. Plaintiff then came out of his home and asked why the police were there. Plaintiff said he had been home sick.
During the administrative investigation, plaintiff said that on that Saturday evening, his wife had “dropped him off on the block behind his house and he cut through rear properties to enter his home from the rear.” He said that while driving to Florida, he recalled that there was a party at a park behind his house and he decided to go there rather than going home with his wife and children.
The Town of Palm Beach terminated plaintiff based on the supervisor’s belief that the plaintiff had violated its stay-at-home policy, had engaged in deceit and was insubordinate. The court referred to plaintiff as a “serial sick leave abuser” and granted summary judgment to the employer on all of the plaintiff’s ADA claims.