Responsibilities under FMLA regulations

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

Employee’s must explain the severity of their illness and the employer must determine when FMLA is necessary. Here are some cases in which obligations were not met and lawsuits ensued.

FMLA regulations: When the ball is in the employer’s court

Probe deeper when an employee mentions a need for time off

What’s your first responsibility when an employee unexpectedly takes time off that may qualify for FMLA leave?

Find out more. The onus is on you to determine if the absence qualifies under FMLA regulations or not.

A case in New Jersey underscores the bad things that can happen when an employer leaves questions hanging over an employee’s call-out.

Baby counts, according to FMLA regulations

The employee’s fiancee gave birth three weeks early. Two days after she was released from the hospital, she was re-hospitalized with heart failure.

The employee missed five-plus days of work, and two weeks after his daughter’s birth. He was fired for violating the company’s attendance policy.

The employee sued for violation of FMLA regulations. He said that when he called in his absences to his supervisor, he mentioned that he needed to stay home with his baby. The supervisor, by contrast, said he only mentioned that his girlfriend was hospitalized – not an FMLA-qualifying event.

Two plus two equals FMLA

The court cleared the suit for trial anyway. Why? The supervisor admitted that she knew the couple had just had a baby, which is qualifying under FMLA regulations.

The burden was on the employer to put two and two together, the court said. If there was doubt, the supervisor should have asked questions and pinned down the situation.

Remember: When it comes to FMLA leave, ignorance of the employee’s situation is no excuse for violating FMLA regulations.

Cite: Washington v. Cooper Hospital, No. 03-5791, D. NJ, 12/2/05.

-Depressed worker didn’t comply with FMLA regulations

Gloria had had more absence warnings – both formal and informal – than the rest of the department combined.

Now Supervisor Morry Clark was trying to cope with an unexpected surge in the workload, and here was Gloria calling in sick again.

Morry got through the crisis, but he was angry when Gloria returned to work two days later.

“I was sick,” she told him.

FMLA regulations call for proof

“I told you last time that I’d need a doctor’s statement,” Morry said.

Gloria was evasive, and the next day when she failed to produce any evidence whatsoever, Morry fired her.

She filed suit under the FMLA, claiming her absences were due to clinical depression and that she was entitled to FMLA-mandated 12-weeks of leave per year to cope with her illness.

Did she win?

The decision

No. Gloria’s medical testimony showed she was incapacitated by depression 10% to 20% of the time and that the episodes could occur without warning. And the court acknowledged that she was a covered employee under FMLA regulations.

But despite her eligibility for coverage, the case was dismissed on the grounds that she failed to follow the FMLA regulations for notification.

Not enough to say you’re ‘sick’

Simply telling her supervisor that she was “sick,” the court pointed out, gave no sense of the seriousness of her condition. FMLA regulations require a serious illness to qualify for leave.

“Employers are entitled to the kind of notice that will tell them that the FMLA may apply to the situation and when the employee will return to work,” the judge said.

“Depression didn’t come on her overnight. She was under an obligation to tell the company about problems that could arise from her depression.”

Collins v. NTN-Bower Corp.

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