FMLA compliance is a two-way street

by on January 26, 2009 · 6 Comments POSTED IN: HR Info Center

If they don’t return the signed FMLA form, it’s your obligation to remind them

Employees and employers have obligations under FMLA regulations

One of the biggest issues in FMLA compliance is how employees request FMLA leave.

Here are two cases that provide insight into FMLA compliance for employers and employees.

In the first instance, a pregnant employee told her supervisor that she was going to need some time off when her baby was born. She didn’t specifically mention FMLA leave. Nor did she ask to complete a form requesting a leave of absence.

In case two, an employee violated company policy by leaving a message about his FMLA leave with the company’s security desk instead of with HR.


Laurel Mullin, a Manpower employee, told her supervisor in confidence that she was five weeks pregnant and that she expected to take “maternity leave” close to her due date.

Shortly after that, Mullin was fired. Her boss said it was for “financial reasons.” Another supervisor told her it was for financial reasons plus “performance reasons.”

Mullin filed a lawsuit against Manpower, which believed it had the right to fire her for reasons unrelated to her leave request. And it did have that right. Problem was, Manpower couldn’t prove that Mullin was fired for any reason other than her intention to take FMLA maternity leave.

In court, Manpower made a convoluted argument: Because Mullin hadn’t specifically requested “FMLA maternity leave,” she hadn’t been granted FMLA maternity leave. And since she hadn’t been granted such leave, she couldn’t very well be fired in retaliation for taking it.

In issuing its decision in favor of Mullin, the court described an employee’s responsibility if she wants maternity leave: She must tell her employer that she will need time off for the birth of her son or daughter. She doesn’t have to mention FMLA specifically. It’s the employer’s responsibility under FMLA regulations, not the employee’s, to recognize that such a request is to be in FMLA compliance.


Another recent case highlights the employee’s responsibility when requesting medical leave under FMLA guidelines.

When Samuel Cavin got into a motorcycle accident, he called in to the security desk where he worked and told the operator he’d be out for the day. He did the same each day for one full week.

The security desk noted Cavin’s absence, but – according to company policy – listed no reason for it.

The next week, when Cavin returned to work with a “fit for duty” note from his doctor, he learned he’d been dismissed for violating company policy. For absences longer than three days, employees were required to call in to HR – not to the security department– and request a leave of absence.

Cavin sued his employer and lost his case. The court said that the employer’s policy was clearly spelled out in its handbook, and that no reasonable jury could find that Cavin had given his employer adequate notice. The employer was FMLA compliant.


These cases underscore both the employer’s and the employee’s duties under FMLA regulations.

Internal FMLA compliance can specify the means of requesting a leave in your policies and procedures (example: contact HR for the proper form). But you can’t fire someone because she didn’t request leave by using the right words. If she doesn’t say “FMLA,” you must explain her rights to her. If she doesn’t ask to sign the appropriate FMLA forms, it’s your responsibility to ask her to do so.

Cites: Mullin v. Rochester Manpower, Inc., U.S. District Court, Western District of NY, No. 00-CV-6257 CJS(B), 1/10/02;
Cavin v. Honda of America, Inc., U.S. District Court, Southern District of OH, Eastern Division, No. C2-00-400, 2/22/02.

HR 2.4

6 Comments on This Post

  1. Abeene3440
    October 10, 2010 - 3:58 pm

    For a chronic condition can leave be denied because the doctor did not put in specific dates the person was to be seen? this is in regard to an already accepted claim that was to be recertified.

    • Anonymous
      October 11, 2010 - 1:23 pm

      Thanks for your comment. We can’t respond to questions about specific
      situations or provide legal advice, but we invite other readers to post
      comments or responses to this question. We encourage you to seek guidance
      from your HR department or, for legal questions, consult an attorney.

      Michael Boyette
      Executive Editor
      Rapid Learning Institute
      PO Box A
      Morton, PA 19070

  2. Ltmoney
    February 27, 2011 - 7:18 pm

    FMLA seems to protect the employee(their job and their position) … but often tends to have a profoundly negative effect on daily operations of The Company. The frequent and long-term absences of an FMLA employee requires additional staff to fullfill the job duties during their medical leave, added costs for overtime, distruptions of entire departments to allow the FMLA employee to retain their job title, and execessive manhours spent with the employee when they finally return to work. What protects “The Company” who is in need of strong and staff members who are able to work regularly??

  3. Srf432
    October 24, 2011 - 12:37 pm

    If any of the owners of a private business own other business at other locations; are those employees counted as part of the total employees?(as far as FMLA regulations is concerned)TY for any response

  4. Michael
    October 31, 2011 - 2:12 pm

    I received paperwork with regard to a request for FMLA which I never made. Furthermore, the letter stipulated that I requested it on a day I was not scheduled to work, did not contact anyone from work for any reason and (finally) how many HR people actually ever worked on a Sunday?

    Seems like a “bums rush” out the door to me, especially considering that it was a decision of a manager that resulted in my permanent injury, surgery and ultimatly, the inability to perform my function hence, out the door I was sent. So LT, it seems to me that although my “position” is safe (providing I send a registered letter every month for the rest of my life stating intent to come back if I ever recover), the employer seems to benefit more under FMLA…

  5. Venusmarie327
    December 1, 2011 - 9:25 pm

    i was admitted to the hospital for chest pains was in for two days, came back to work got my FMLA papers on friday, told my HR department I had a doctors appointment to discuss surgery the following Tuesday asked if I could bring papers back then never recieved a reply so thought Tuesday was ok, no I got a Write up on Monday, even though they knew I was going to Doctor.  Now its a week later I have an appointment with Surgeon but cant miss work and havent received my FMLA approval.  Is there a time frame

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