Your company probably has paperwork for employees to fill out when they need FMLA leave. As it should.
But, as a court case in Ohio demonstrates, handing someone a piece of paper may not be enough to put them on notice of their responsibilities.
Needed more time
An employee had eye surgery and needed more time off afterward than he had expected. The company told him the time would be counted against his FMLA leave entitlement, and sent him the forms to certify his leave.
For three weeks, the employee made sporadic contact with his supervisors, but did not call in daily, per company policy and as the FMLA paperwork reminded him. After he missed three straight days without calling, the employer fired him for job abandonment. The employee sued for interference with his FMLA rights.
By now you’re thinking, this is an open-and-shut case, right? The company told the employee exactly what he had to do, and he didn’t do it.
Well, the court didn’t consider it as clear as that. The judge said the case was strong enough to go to trial.
Off the hook
Problem was, in the phone conversations between the employee and his managers, the managers made remarks that may have let the worker off hook for daily call-ins. Example: One manager told him to call “if his status changed.”
As for the reminder in the FMLA paperwork, the employee noted that the deadline to return the material fell after the three days he missed. The company couldn’t assume he would read it – and the warning – before he had to turn it in.
Best bet: When handing out FMLA paperwork, orally remind people of key requirements like call-in policies.
Cite: Platt v. Lamrite West Inc., No. 1:10 CV 1107, E.D. Ohio, 8/17/11.
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