FMLA regulations: Notification doesn’t count if you tell the wrong person

by on January 14, 2010 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Employees must know their company policies and FMLA regulations well enough to notify the necessary people of their family medical leave. Otherwise, their jobs are unprotected by FMLA regulations.

Worker failed to provide her employer with proper FMLA notice

She followed FMLA regulations before – court said that set precedent

An employee who knows how to request a medical leave of absence according to FMLA regulations can’t claim ignorance when she fails to comply with the rules.

So said a court that heard the case of a woman who claimed FMLA regulations were violated when she was fired.

Missed work a dozen times

The woman underwent elbow surgery for which she took FMLA leave.

Subsequently, she missed work about a dozen times over the next year. Each time was a medical absence; and each time she notified her supervisor in accordance with company policy.

That policy stated that employees “must follow the ‘call-in’ policy for [their] department. “Health Services will not call the employee’s manager …” This language was bolded and underlined in the employee handbook.

One morning the woman failed to report to work. Her boyfriend called in on her behalf. Unfortunately, he contacted Health Services, not his girlfriend’s supervisor. The supervisor didn’t know where the woman was. After a few days, she was terminated for abandoning her job.

The employee sued. Her claim: though she hadn’t properly reported her absence, her employer knew about her medical problems and should have let her slide. The employer argued that she’d already shown a consistent pattern of notifying her supervisor properly.

The court ruled for the company. It said the employee had no excuse for failing to comply with the policy, which the court felt was clear and reasonable.

The firm knew that if it didn’t enforce its own policies evenly, those policies could weaken and not hold up in court.

Cite: Bones v. Honeywell International, U.S. District Court, District of Kansas, No. 00-4129-SAC, 9/20/02.

Failure to comply with FMLA regulations does not cost job

“I had an accident,” Hal Baker called to tell Supervisor Max Klein. “I’ll be out for three days.”

On the third day, his doctor told him to stay out for another three days. So Hal called again. This time he reached a security guard and asked him to deliver the message to Max.

“You violated the leave policy, and FMLA regulations, by not reporting directly to me or to HR,” Max told him when he returned.

“That means your absences, under FMLA regulations, do not qualify for leave.”

Hal wasn’t too concerned until persistent pain forced him to miss three more weeks of work.

He assumed that this absence would be FMLA-covered. But his doctor didn’t complete the FMLA certification correctly.

So when he tried to return to work, Max fired him for violating the company’s leave policy for the second time.

Hal sued, claiming that his FMLA leave rights had been violated.

Did he win?

The decision

Yes, Hal won. The company claimed its right to enforce a legitimate policy aimed at reducing the high costs of absenteeism, and the court agreed. But that’s about all that the court agreed with.

“No company has the right to enforce an attendance policy at the expense of violating an employee’s rights and FMLA regulations,” the judge thundered.

To begin with, Hal was not absent without leave on his first offense. He called in and gave verbal notice to the security guard. He also told the guard that he had been injured in an accident.

“When an employee has given verbal notice with some facts that would indicate potential application of FMLA leave, his supervisor should have considered this possibility,” the judge added.

Moreover, employees do not have to specify that they are taking FMLA leave. FMLA regulations say that the supervisor must inform them of their FMLA rights, including intermittent leave.

Hal shouldn’t have been held responsible for his doctor’s failure to execute the documentation correctly.

Hal was reinstated and awarded back pay and legal fees.

Calvin v. Honda of America, Manufacturing, No. 02-3357, 10/10/03.

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