September 13, 2010

Employee’s reporting feeling “tired, lethargic, fatigue-ish and ill” insufficient notice to trigger the protections of the FMLA

Employee’s reporting feeling “tired, lethargic, fatigue-ish and ill” insufficient notice to trigger the protections of the FMLA
Source: The FMLA Blog - http://federalfmla.typepad.com/fmla_blog/
Copyright © 2010. All rights reserved by Carl C. Bosland, Esq. Reproduced with permission. Mr. Bosland is the author of A Federal Sector Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act & Related Litigation.

Jordan To was employed by US Bank as a Senior Research Clerk.

While employed, To joined the Minnesota National Guard. As ordered, To attended Guard training at Fort Benning for approximately three months. He kept his employer informed of his expected return to work.

When his return date came, To called his supervisor and informed him that because he was feeling tired, lethargic fatigue-ish he needed a few days off to recuperate and would not be back to work as previously planned. To was told that, to be excused, he would need a doctor's note, which To provided. To provided a doctor's note, which excused his continuing absence from work citing only "illness."

As his revised return days approached, To would call his supervisor requesting additional leave because "he was still not feeling well." A second doctor's sought to excuse his continuing absence due to "illness." The pattern continued of more calls to work asking for additional leave because he "was still feeling the same symptoms."

Eventually, To remained absent from work but stopped calling his supervisor as required by US Bank policy. US Bank fired To.

To sued, alleging violation of the FMLA. US Bank moved for summary judgment.
In awarding summary judgment to US Bank, the court found that To had failed to provide adequate notice of his need for FMLA leave.

In the Sixth Circuit, whether an employee provided adequate notice of the need for leave is based on whether the information imparted to the employer is sufficient to reasonably apprise the employer that the need for leave is due to a serious health condition. An employee must explain their need for leave in a way that makes it reasonably plaint that the employee's health condition is serious and that this is why the employee needs to be absent.

By informing his employer that he "was felling ill, tired, lethargic, fatigue-ish... and that he needed a few days to recuperate," To failed to reasonably apprise US Bank that his need for leave was due to an FMLA-covered serious health condition. As additional evidence of To's failure to provide adequate notice, the Court also cited the doctor's slips, which simply referenced "illness" as the reason he needed to be absent from work.

The Court also found that US Bank had the right to terminate To for violating company policy requiring him to notify his supervisor, not someone else, of his need for leave. Under US Bank policy, an employee who is absent for two consecutive work days and who fails to report those absences to their immediate supervisor is considered to have abandoned their job. That, the Court found, is what happened in this case.

Absent unusual circumstances, the FMLA allows an employer to enforce their usual and customary leave policies and procedures. 29 CFR 825.302(d). The Court found not "unusual circumstances" that prevented To from complying with US Bank's direct reporting requirement.

Mr. Bosland Comments: To perfect the right to job-protected FMLA leave, employees do not have to invoke the FMLA by name (although they may). Employee's must, however, articulate facts that arguably fit one or more FMLA-covered serious health conditions. Claiming that you are "ill," or "sick," or "fatigued" simply fails that test. Courts have uniformly held that such generic language fails to reasonably alert the employer that the need for leave is due to a "serious" health condition that might be FMLA-qualifying.

Even if To had provided adequate notice of the need for leave, US Bank would have been within its right to deny FMLA leave coverage and terminate him for violating the company's leave reporting policies and procedures. To perfect the right to FMLA leave, employees must provide adequate notice of the need for leave, and abide by their company's leave reporting policies. An employee might be excused both from providing adequate notice and complying with the employer's leave reporting policies if they were unable to do so. That was not the case with To.

To v. US Bancorp, No. 08-5979 (JRT/JJK), (D. Minn. Sept. 7, 2010)
http://www.leagle.com/unsecure/page.htm?shortname=infdco20100907a83

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