Employee met his obligations for FMLA leave, but employer didn’t.

An employer lost in court because its management team didn’t fully understand its obligations under FMLA regulations.

An employee verbally requested time off to care for his wife who had cancer. He didn’t request “FMLA leave” per se. He just said he needed “time off.”

During a nine-month period he took off a total of 77 days. Most weren’t consecutive and the time off didn’t interfere with his supervisory duties. He continued to receive his full pay. And he submitted time sheets that indicated the days he took off to care for his wife.

But then he was fired. The reason, according to his employer: he hadn’t provided proper notification as to how long he’d continue to need time off.

The worker suspected the real reason was that his time off included hours for which his employer couldn’t bill its client. So he sued, claiming the company was in violation of FMLA regulations. The company said he never even requested FMLA leave.

The judge ruled that the employee did not have to call it “FMLA” as long as he requested it properly. The employee had both foreseeable and unforeseeable leave needs. When leave needs are foreseeable, FMLA regulations require the worker to provide at least a verbal notification in advance. When unforeseeable, the regs require the worker to notify the employer as soon as possible.

The judge said the employee met his obligations, but the employer acted inappropriately.

Bottom line: Take employee requests for “time off” seriously – and know FMLA regulations inside and out.

Cite: Moore v. United Int’l Investigative Services, Inc., U.S. District Court, Eastern Division of VA, No. 1:01cv1886, 7/10/02.

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