An employee tells his boss he needs time off to care for a sick family member — but says he doesn’t want to use FMLA. How should the manager respond?
Here’s some guidance from a recent court case:
An employee missed a week of work to care for his hospitalized mother.
He sent his manager an e-mail, saying he needed “a couple days off” to make arrangements for her medical care. Also, he said, “I could apply for the family care act, which I do not want to do at this time,” referring to FMLA.
After getting the e-mail, the manager tried to call the employee — 14 times — during the following week. He got no answer or response. A week after the e-mail was sent, the employee finally returned the manager’s calls.
The manager told him he was fired. Company policy said missing work for more than two days without notifying a supervisor was grounds for immediate termination. Since the employee only said he’d be gone for “a couple days” and had already missed a week, the manager decided he’d violated the policy.
The employee sued, claiming his absences should’ve been protected under FMLA.
The company argued he said clearly in his e-mail that he didn’t want FMLA. But the employee claimed he still laid out the reasons for his absence, which notified the company he was eligible for FMLA. Therefore, he said, the company was still obligated to send him the appropriate forms and ask him if he wanted FMLA leave.
No notice obligation
The company said the case should be thrown out. The court agreed.
The judge noted that there have been several cases where employees have turned down FMLA leave, even though they were eligible — often because the employee wants to save leave for a future need.
In those situations, the court ruled, the employees forfeit protection for their absences and are subject to company policy.
When workers decide not use FMLA, employers aren’t obligated to try and persuade them otherwise, or to consider their absences protected anyway — as long as the employees are properly notified that they’re eligible and aren’t misled about their FMLA rights.
Cite: Righi v. SMC Corp. of America