US railroad company Union Pacific has been accused of routinely hiring private investigators to snoop on workers who take medical leave, before firing them if it discovers they have left their home during leave. The lawsuit, one of several to have targeted rail companies on this issue, argues that companies wish to pile pressure on train crews to stay on call – pushing them away from taking sick days they are entitled to under the Family Medical Leave Act. Nick Thompson, the attorney behind the Union Pacific suit – and others – said he expected to be contacted by more employees. Union Pacific claims it follows every regulation of the Family Medical Leave Act and that it does not punish its workers for using its services.
The issue is compounded by the fact that those in the industry lack paid sick leave. While some unionised workers have an agreement in place, the majority of employees operate without paid sick leave. Rail workers have demanding and unpredictable schedules, and poor working schedules were part of the reason that railroads faced strike action in 2018. Rail companies argue they have struggled to attract workers to the industry, and have argued that they had to cut jobs to stay competitive.
The fate of Union Pacific workers who have been investigated after medical leave was taken by the company has led to the company being accused of putting profit ahead of employee welfare. The issue is one of several affecting the US rail industry. Late in 2018, a series of high-profile derailments led to calls for better safety standards.