Court: Employer’s call-in policy was an FMLA violation
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Court: Employer’s call-in policy was an FMLA violation

Some in-house leave policies go too far

If your company’s policy for medical leave requests is stricter than the process described in the FMLA regulations, watch out: It may qualify as an FMLA violation.

In reaching this decision, a court invalidated a seemingly reasonable internal procedure that an employer had put in place to ensure consistent and accurate compliance with the FMLA.

Violation, according to the handbook

Samuel J. Cavin worked in Honda’s assembly department from 1991 through 1999. As a Honda employee, Cavin received a copy of the company’s employee handbook, which included a description of Honda’s employee attendance and leave policies.

The handbook required notice to Honda in the event of any absence from work: For one-day absences, employees were to notify plant security or their department “prior to the beginning of their scheduled shift, or as soon as reasonable.”

Anything beyond a one-day absence was to be reported to Honda Administration – Leave Coordination. Moreover, the handbook provided that any employee seeking a leave of absence must formally request the leave from Leave Coordination, either in advance of the leave (when foreseeable) or “no later than three (3) consecutive workdays of the first day missed” (when unforeseeable).

That policy got Honda into trouble. Why? Because all that’s required under FMLA is that “an employee shall provide at least verbal notice sufficient to make the employer aware that the employee needs FMLA-qualifying leave.”

In other words, Honda’s requirements were stricter than Uncle Sam’s, a clear FMLA violation.

He failed to comply with policy

One day, Cavin was injured in a motorcycle accident. He was treated in the hospital and released the same day. His doctors excused him from work for the entire week.

Beginning with the day of his accident, Cavin called and reported his absence to Plant Security on all five days of the workweek.

The following Monday Cavin called Leave Coordination to request another week of medical leave.

Despite his having the appropriate medical certification stating that his absence was legitimate, Honda disciplined Cavin and partially denied him FMLA leave for failing to notify Leave Coordination within three consecutive workdays of his first day of leave.

Later that year, when Cavin failed to comply with Honda’s medical certification requirements for another leave of absence (still related to the motorcycle accident), Honda terminated his employment for repeatedly flaunting company policy.

Won FMLA violation case on appeal

Cavin sued Honda, alleging that it had interfered with his FMLA rights and wrongfully terminated him. He lost in a lower court, but on appeal Cavin won his FMLA violation lawsuit.

Because Honda’s defense centered on Cavin’s failure to comply with its policy manual, the court made a thorough analysis of the manual.

Limiting FMLA rights is an FMLA violation

In issuing its ruling, the court explained that the FMLA “does not permit an employer to limit his employee’s FMLA rights by denying them whenever an employee fails to comply with internal procedural requirements that are more strict than those contemplated by the FMLA.”

This case sends a clear warning to companies: The standards set by the FMLA are what matter in a court of law, not the fine print in your internal policy manual.

Cite: Cavin v. Honda of America Mfg., Inc., U.S. Court of Appeals, 6th Circuit, No. 22316812, 10/10/03.

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