“You’ve got to be joking!” cried Jean Sheridan. She was on the phone, speaking with Dick Gormley, bakery department supervisor.

“I’m not, Jean,” Dick said. “We’ve hired somebody to take your place. It was out of line to take an extra two weeks of unpaid family medical leave. There is work to do around here.”

Jean was furious. “I told you beforehand that my daughter was going into labor, and that her husband could not help! I needed time off. This is not fair.”

Abandoned the job, without request for FMLA pregnancy leave

“This is the first I’ve heard from you since you left for Colorado, Jean,” Dick countered, “and that was four weeks ago. We gave you two weeks unpaid company leave when you asked for it, but I told you four weeks off was not an option. You should have come back sooner.”

“There were complications, and my grandchild needed me,” Jean cried. “This should be covered by the FMLA for pregnancy. I want my job back.”

Jean sued, claiming the company improperly denied her FMLA pregnancy leave, and retaliated against her.

Did she win?

Insufficient notice

No. The court threw Jean’s claim out and an appeals court agreed she didn’t have a case.

The judge said that, under the FMLA, pregnancy is not a “serious medical condition.” In addition, Jean did not mention any complications – or invoke the Family Medical Leave Act – until after the fact.

The court drew a distinction between being pregnant and being “incapacitated due to pregnancy” which does qualify as a “serious medical condition.”

If that were the case, and Jean’s adult daughter were “incapable of self-care,” FMLA pregnancy leave might well apply.

Lesson: Courts will back you up if you decide to terminate a worker who tries to claim FMLA protection after the fact. Just make sure you check with HR to make sure you are on solid ground.

Cite: Cruz v. Publix Supermarkets, Inc., No. 05-10245, 11th Cir., 10/31/05.

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