Formal FMLA rules on the books? Enforce ‘em!

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Does your handbook include a formal policy regarding FMLA leave requests and absences? If so, make sure you stick to that policy. Bending the rules creates a slippery slope that could land you in court.

It’s happened to too many organizations. They have a written policy requiring employees to provide 30 days’ written notice if their leaves are foreseeable (such as for scheduled surgery), and as much notice as possible if the need for leave is not foreseeable (in an emergency). Then, over time, supervisors begin loosening the rules.

Recent case:  Gwendolyn Ijames worked as a certified nursing assistant until she was fired for not calling in when she missed a shift.

When she started her job, Ijames had received a copy of the FMLA notice policy and signed a receipt acknowledging she had read it. The policy required her to ask for foreseeable time off 30 days before the start of the leave and to get her health care provider to return a certification before leave started.

However, she would claim in court, she had asked her supervisors many times about taking time off to have knee surgery; she said they had all agreed to her request. The day before she was scheduled to have the surgery, she found out she was scheduled for work. She told her supervisor, who then told her she needed to follow the written policy. When she didn’t show the next day, she was terminated for not calling in.

She sued, alleging her employer had interfered with her right to take leave. The court said her case could go to trial and a jury should decide whether the employer tricked her into not following the written policy. (Ijames v. Autumn Corporation, No. 1:08-CV-777, MD NC, 2009)

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