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Late FMLA notice: When must you cut slack?

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Last year’s FMLA regulations gave employers new powers to demand notification from employees.

Previously, employees could give notice of their need for unforeseen FMLA leave up to two days after being out on leave, even if they could have given notice earlier. But the new rules say employees must follow their employer’s call-in procedures for reporting such absences, unless there are “unusual circumstances.”

Advice: Pay attention to that last phrase. While you can now hold employees to your “usual and customary” notice procedures when they’re notifying you of unexpected FMLA leave, you must allow some flexibility for emergency circumstances (see box below).

Recent case: A Texas medical center had approved employee Shauna Saenz for intermittent FMLA leave due to chronic seizures. She was required to report any absences attributable to the condition to an outside administrator within two days of missing work. She did this on several occasions.

One day, Saenz’s mother called the center and said she had found her daughter disoriented and hallucinating. A supervisor suggested she take Saenz to the emergency room. The supervisor even stopped by the ER later to check on her.

Saenz was transferred to another hospital for psychiatric treatment and released a few days later.

The medical center fired Saenz for failing to call the outside administrator to report her absences.

She sued and the court sided with her, saying that, under the circumstances, holding Saenz to the two-day requirement was unreasonable. (Saenz v. Harlingen Medical Center, No. 09-40887, 5th Cir., 2010)

Online resource: Find model FMLA notification and certification forms at www.dol.gov/whd/fmla.

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