MILWAUKEE CO. (WITI) -- It's a staggering number: About one in four Milwaukee County employees apply for medical leave. Are all those cases legitimate? A recent case has county leaders questioning their employees. Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke have teamed up to crack down on employees abusing medical leave.
This comes after a Sheriff's Office employee was brought up on termination charges after an investigation by Milwaukee County's Risk Management Division found the employee was using her federally protected medical leave (FMLA) under false pretenses.
According to Abele's office, after requesting time off that wasn't approved, the employee claimed she needed to obtain a federally-protected medical leave due to a health condition.
A medical certification from the employee’s medical provider indicated the woman needed 12 weeks off because of the condition.
The certification said the employee was restricted from “ambulating longer / greater than 10-15 feet” and restricted from having “close interaction with multiple people."
The leave was initially granted, but in March, the Risk Management Division received a tip that the medical leave was not needed.
Risk Management performed an investigation into the validity of the FMLA leave application -- which included photo and video surveillance.
On two separate dates, investigators photographed the employee walking distances much further than 15 feet and taking part in classes that included multiple people -- both things beyond the scope of medical restrictions for which the leave was granted.
In light of the new evidence, the employee’s leave was revoked and the information was referred to the Sheriff’s Office for further investigation.
“FMLA is vitally important for employees who truly need medical leave. When those benefits are abused, it hurts taxpayers and those who depend on this protection. We will continue to aggressively root out this type of abuse to protect medical leave for those who truly need it. I’m happy to work with the Sheriff and his staff on making sure the system is not abused," Abele said in a statement.
“What we have seen is that if strict oversight is not implemented some, not all, will exploit the situation, as happened here. County Executive Abele and I are sending a message that abuse of this family law will result in severe consequences. This abuse also places a burden on coworkers who have to fill in the void left by their absences,” Sheriff Clarke said in a statement.
FMLA is paid medical leave available to all 4,000 Milwaukee County employees.
Just last year, more than 1,300 requests were filed for FMLA -- and close to 1,000 of those were granted.
"Lake County, Illinois has 3,200 employees and they had 300 in the same period -- so 300 requests out of 3,200 -- so that`s about one out of every ten people over the course of the year. That`s a little more reasonable. We have one out of every four," Abele said.
Abele says all of those leaves have added up to more than 139,000 hours of work time missed and about $2.5 million.
"When people are on family medical leave, we`re the county. We provide government and public services. We have to keep providing them, so we need to bring people in to fill in and that`s at overtime," Abele said.
In an effort to weed out the necessary claims from the fake ones, Abele says they'll be giving a lot more scrutiny to every application.
"We will want to get independent medical examinations and if people have concerns or what appears to be abuse, we`ll check," Abele said.
As for the employee mentioned in this story, she's been notified that the county intends on terminating her employment.
Before that happens though, her case will be going before a personnel review board.