“Can you tell me why you still haven’t moved your effects out of this cubicle?” Supervisor Cap Andrews asked employee Brock Gulliver. “The new hire needs to move her stuff in.”

“All right, all right,” Brock said. “I’ll get to it after lunch.”

“Now!” Cap bellowed. “You’ve got a cubicle in your new department, and your replacement in this department has been waiting for two days for you to vacate her space. Just because you’re sore about the transfer doesn’t mean you can gum up the works.”

“I’m not feeling too well. I’ve got a headache, and I need some time to rest. I can’t do it right now,” Brock said, and walked away.

“You come back here, mister,” Cap shouted. “Otherwise you’re refusing a direct order.”

Brock kept walking and didn’t reply. He went to the parking lot, got into his truck and started off for his doctor’s office.

One of Cap’s other subordinates, Martha Jones, had witnessed the exchange. “Be careful, Cap,” she said. “You remember Brock had a heart bypass operation a couple years back.”

“I remember,” the supervisor said. “But he can’t leverage his medical history into a right to disobey orders.” Cap suspended Brock for a week. Later, Brock sued the company, claiming Cap interfered with his right to take leave under the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Did he win?

No, Brock didn’t win his FMLA lawsuit. The court that heard the case said he hadn’t given his supervisor, Cap, adequate notice that he had a medical condition that could be serious enough to qualify him for leave. Also, Cap couldn’t be expected to infer that Brock was having heart trouble just because he had had a bypass operation at some point in the past. So when Cap ordered Brock back to work, he wasn’t interfering with the latter’s FMLA rights.

So what constitutes adequate notice? Supervisors need to remember two key points in deciding when to offer their subordinates the necessary paperwork for FMLA leave:

1. An employee doesn’t have to specifically request FMLA leave in so many words, if the person gives the supervisor a clear idea that he or she may in fact be suffering from a serious health condition. Example: An employee says her diabetes is acting up and she can’t finish her shift.

2. Even so, an employee who merely says he or she is “sick,” or “doesn’t feel well,” hasn’t given the legally required notice of a serious health condition. You need not bring up FMLA in such cases

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