Blogging Employee Benefits

April 1, 2006

Involuntary FMLA Leave Still Requires Notice of Serious Medical Condition

Filed under: FMLA, Litigation — Fuguerre @ 9:23 am

This case defies the conventional pattern for FMLA claims.

Involuntary leave is not subject to entitled to the rights provided under the Family and Medical Leave Act unless the employee has provided the employer with notice of a serious medical condition, according to a 5th Circuit ruling affirming district court summary judgment for the employer. [Willis v. Coca Cola Enterprises, No. 30047]

Although the central principle regarding notice of serious medical conditions comes through in the end, as the court observes the facts of this case are convoluted. After the employee called in sick one workday, the next day she was told she could return only upon obtaining her doctor's release. Due to a misunderstanding between the employee and her supervisor over the timing of her doctor's appointment, over a week then passed without further contact from the employee. Under a company policy deeming voluntary resignation to have occurred after three consecutive days without notification, the company terminated her employment. Although the employee had not requested FMLA at the time – indeed, by seeking to return to work, she had essentially denied that she needed further leave beyond the first day's sick leave – she later claimed that her company had placed her on involuntary FMLA leave when it refused to permit her to return to work without a medical release. Complicating the picture somewhat, when the employee initially called in sick, she informed her supervisor that she was pregnant, but did not specifically articulate that her sickness was in any way related to the pregnancy.

We cannot assume that every time an employer chooses to place an individual on leave that the FMLA is triggered . . . . A complaint of sickness will not suffice as notice of a need to take FMLA leave.

Looking to decisions of the 6th and 10th Circuits, the 10th found that even in the case of involuntary leave, the employee must provide sufficient notice of a serious health condition in order to qualify the absence as FMLA leave. The court observed that the FMLA's informational burden would not work if employees could subsequently tag leave as FMLA-qualified for purposes of litigation without having provided adequate notice to the employer at the time of the event.


1 Comment »

  1. By way of a minor point of clarification, no, I don’t see this as any reversal whatsoever, quite the contrary, rather as further confirmation of principles that ought to have been long settled, both with respect to the requirement that the employee give notification of a serious medical condition and that those rules are not inapplicable to involuntary leave. If my posting on this case suggested that I found that conclusion at all out of the ordinary course of FMLA principle and practice, chalk it up to my intrigue over the convolution of the facts of the case.

    Comment by Fuguerre — April 2, 2006 @ 11:35 am

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