Employers are expected to understand the ins and outs of the. Employees, on the other hand, aren’t expected to know their rights. That’s why the FMLA says employees don’t have to use magic words like “I need ” to claim the unpaid time off. All they have to do is give their employer enough information so the employer realizes the employee might be eligible for leave.
That’s why you must train supervisors and managers on situations that could trigger the FMLA leave determination process.
The best approach is to suggest they notify HR if an employee calls in sick and implies anything more than “I’m sick today.” If the employee provides any detail that makes it seem likely he or a family member is suffering from a serious health condition, he should be referred to HR to determine if he’s eligible for FMLA leave. If a supervisor is unsure, simply suggest checking with HR anyway.
On the other hand, routine “sick” calls don’t require special treatment.
Recent case: Donald Brown worked for Kansas City Freightliner Sales as a technician. He had used up all his sick and vacation leave when he told a supervisor he had hurt his back, but refused medical treatment. He went home and called in sick the next few days. He was then terminated because he was out of leave.
Brown sued, alleging he had been terminated when he really should have been placed on FMLA leave. He explained that it turned out his back had been so badly injured that he needed surgery.
The court tossed out Brown’s case, reasoning that nothing he had told his supervisor put the company on notice he might have a serious health condition. (Brown v. Kansas City Freightliner Sales, No. 09-3324, 8th Cir., 2010)