Was FMLA paperwork turned in too late?

by on March 3, 2010 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

“Do you have that FMLA paperwork for me?” HR manager Brock Gustafson asked Wendell Harper.

“I put it on your desk last week,” Wendell said.

“I’ve told you in the past to put anything that you consider important directly in my hand, not in my office,” Brock said. “I did not find any FMLA paperwork from you on my desk.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Wendell said. “I’ll go home and pick up another copy.”

“You’re obliged to get a doctor’s certification within fifteen days if you have an unexpected illness and take FMLA leave without prior notice,” Brock said. “As of 8:45 a.m.” – he checked his watch – “it’s been exactly fifteen days, and we are entitled to consider your absence as unexcused since you haven’t provided the necessary FMLA paperwork.”

Termination letter

“No,” Wendell said. “I’ll get the doctor to fax it if you don’t want me going home.”

“I do want you to go home,” Brock said. “Here’s a letter confirming your unexcused absence, which is a violation of attendance policy and your third disciplinary strike this year. That’s punishable by termination, and so here’s another letter, of termination.”

“What?” Wendell cried. “I had bronchitis, and my doctor confirmed it. You can’t fire me for being sick.”

“The law and our company policy are very clear,” Brock said. “We don’t have to approve your FMLA leave without certification and the necessary FMLA paperwork. Time’s up.”

“First, I’m getting my doctor to fax the form. Then, I’m suing,” Wendell warned, pocketing the letters.

“Be my guest,” Brock replied.

Wendell did sue, claiming that the company interfered with his FMLA rights. Did he win?

The decision

Yes, Wendell did win, by getting a court to agree that Brock acted too rashly. The court refused to throw out Wendell’s case.

The court said that under the FMLA, a worker has 15 calendar days to turn in the required certification. That meant Wendell had the full day in question to produce the FMLA paperwork. He did get the doctor to fax a copy to Brock’s office just past 5 p.m.

Beyond the time-of-day dispute, the court said Wendell’s claim that he put the completed FMLA paperwork on Brock’s desk days earlier was enough to get the case to trial, with all the expense that entailed. Brock swore he never found the form on his desk, but the court said a jury should sort out that issue.

Don’t jump the gun over FMLA paperwork

Employers are justified in holding employees’ feet to the fire over FMLA paperwork. Sometimes it’s the only way to ensure that staff doesn’t take family medical leave as a ticket to goof off.

It’s great to be prepared, as Brock was in this case. It’s the way to go if you want to play hardball with a truant. But it’s important not to jump the gun, spoiling your preparation and putting yourself in the wrong.

Our recommendation: Give it an extra day or two.

Cite: Kauffman v. Federal Express Corp. v. No. 04-2433, 7th Cir., 10/18/05.

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