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Court: Employee talk of father’s health was ample leave notice

Employees need not use any particular terms or even mention the FMLA when putting employers on notice of the need for leave

Posted January 27, 2020

Some employers still believe that employees need to request “FMLA” leave or otherwise use some particular words before the FMLA obligations are triggered. Unfortunately, however, employees may put employers on notice of the need for leave in many different ways without using any particular words.

Case in point

Kyle had worked for the company for a few years now, with no real issues. Like every other employee, Kyle had a private life, and sometimes, effects of that private life spilled over into the workplace. Kyle had shared information regarding his father’s deteriorating health with his supervisor and coworkers.

One day, Kyle’s stepmother told him that his father’s health needed immediate medical attention. He missed work to care for his father for about a week. At the beginning of the absence, Kyle left a voicemail with his supervisor, and the next day he left a voicemail with a company co-owner. When Kyle did not appear for his shift at the end of the week, the co-owner sent him a Facebook message asking where he was. The next day, Kyle responded that his father was still pretty bad off.

The co-owner advised Kyle to call his supervisor. Kyle responded by sending several argumentative Facebook messages. The co-owner then messaged Kyle “Don’t worry about your job. You left,” and “You abandoned your job according to everyone.”

The argument continued until the co-owner told Kyle not to return to the company property.

Kyle sued, arguing that his employer violated his FMLA rights when it terminated him for availing himself of FMLA leave.

The employer argued that Kyle’s leave was not protected by the FMLA because he did not provide sufficient notice of his need for FMLA.

The court in this case ruled in favor of Kyle. It pointed out that Kyle informed both his supervisor and a company co-owner of his need for time off to care for his father, including when he indicated that his father was still pretty bad off. That was enough to put the employer on notice of the need for leave. The employer appeared to terminate Kyle because he took such leave, which the court felt was retaliation in violation of the FMLA.

Too often, employers make employees jump through excessive hoops or use some specific words or even “apply” for FMLA leave. Employees only need to provide enough information to let employers know they need leave for a potential FMLA-qualifying reason, and missing work because a parent is “pretty bad off” can be enough.

Waterman v. Paul G. White Interior Solutions, U.S. District court of Maine, No. 2:19-cv-00032, November 5, 2019.

This article was written by Darlene M. Clabault, SHRM-CP, PHR, CLMS, of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

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