Employee says that he's sick – do FMLA guidelines apply?

by on March 18, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

You may have to break out the FMLA forms depending on what they say.

Seems like the courts never tire of throwing you legal curves about the FMLA guidelines. Here’s the latest:

When a worker reports he or she is “sick” and has to go home – without saying anything else – you may have to break out the FMLA forms.

Whoa! That sounds like a big expansion of your FMLA liability. After all, federal courts have said in the past that your FMLA compliance – notifying employees of their rights, providing certification forms, potentially authorizing leave – aren’t triggered when somebody simply says they’re sick.

Context matters

It’s not that simple anymore, in light of the new decision in Illinois.

Here’s what happened:

An employee said he was sick and had to go home, punched out over his supervisor’s objections, and was fired for insubordination. When he sued, the court said the medical context should have alerted the employer that he might be eligible for leave under FMLA guidelines.

The supervisor knew the employee was worried about prostate cancer. He had reported a “weak bladder,” tests had shown he had a high level of PSA, a marker for the cancer and he had undergone a prostate biopsy. (As it turns out, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer after his dismissal.)

What’s this mean for you? After all, managers can’t routinely ask employees for their medical info – it’s illegal.

Best bet: Have supervisors make a quick note – or send an e-mail to themselves – when an employee tells them of a medical issue. That way, if the employee later says he’s sick, the supervisor will know what to ask, and whether to reach for those FMLA forms.

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