Work it Out Blog

Is There Something Magical About These Four Letters? F-M-L-A

May 20, 2015 by David T. Andrews

We are frequently asked if an employee has to specifically request FMLA leave before the company’s HR department has to complete the FMLA notice paperwork.  The definitive answer to that questions is no.  An employee does not have to specifically request FMLA leave, or in any way use the magic letters F-M-L-A.  Instead, employers are expected to use all of the information at their disposal to determine whether the employee’s absence may qualify for FMLA.

Just last week, the Federal Court of Appeals covering Ohio ruled that the HR department of a local jail system may have failed to recognize that an employee’s medical situation was covered by the FMLA.  In that case, an employee left work, “with chest pains and shortness of breath.”  He was admitted to the emergency room and stayed overnight.  His supervisor filed an incident report, clearly indicating that the employer was aware of the medical issue.  Several days later, the employee presented a doctor’s note to his supervisor stating that the employee could return to work, but was limited to eight hours of work per day with no overtime.  The employer accommodated those restrictions for a few weeks, before deciding that they would no longer honor work hour restrictions unless the employee was on FMLA. 

The lower court dismissed the employee’s claim that the employer had violated the FMLA by not designating his restricted hours as reduced schedule leave under the FMLA.  The court stated that the employer did not have sufficient information to determine that the eight- hour work limitation could be a request for intermittent or reduced schedule FMLA.  The Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that although the doctor’s note did not disclose the medical condition or any treatment, the other circumstances – the trip to the hospital due to chest pains and the fact that the employer accommodated the work hours restriction for a period of time – are enough to put an employer on notice of the potential need for the FMLA notice.

This is a reminder to, when in doubt, issue the FMLA paperwork and require the employee to have his or her doctor complete an FMLA certification.  If you guess that the employee is not covered and that guess proves to be wrong, the consequences can be severe.  For any FMLA questions, please contact David Andrews at dandrews@dayketterer.com, or your Day Ketterer employment attorney.

The content of this blog is for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice for any purpose. This blog is not intended to present an exhaustive summary of all applicable laws, or to take the place of legal advice.  If you have any questions regarding the law, please contact us for assistance.