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How to handle partial-day absences under FMLA

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Sometimes, an employee needs just a few hours of FMLA leave, for example, to make a doctor’s appointment or to drive a relative to treatment. The employee may find it more convenient to take the entire day off, but you don’t have to allow it. Should the employee not return after the appointment, you are free to treat the absence as unauthorized.

Recent case: Johnny worked for the Bilco Company and took FMLA leave to care for his mother after she had back surgery. As she recovered, he needed less time off, mainly to take her to doctor’s appointments.

Because Bilco had a no-fault attendance program that assessed points for unscheduled missed work, Johnny had to call in and speak with a supervisor if he was taking FMLA leave or was going to miss work. Absences without prior approval counted against him. But the company was careful to subtract any missing time that was due to FMLA reasons.

Johnny told his supervisor he was going to miss work to take his mother to a doctor’s appointment. Because his shift was working on a tight schedule, the supervisor told Johnny he needed to return after the appointment. He ignored those orders and never came to work that day. Bilco fired Johnny after the supervisor assessed him points for missing half the day.

He sued, alleging FMLA interference.

The court dismissed the case. It reasoned that because the company subtracted a reasonable amount of time for the doctor’s appointment, it didn’t count legitimate FMLA leave against him. He was fired based on missing hours that didn’t qualify for FMLA leave. (Chappell v. The Bilco Company, No. 11-1243, 8th Cir., 2012)

Final note: The court also noted that it’s fine to require employees who take FMLA leave to call in.

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