Employees who needto deal with serious health conditions are supposed to let their employers know. Then it’s up to the employer to process the paperwork and get any medical certifications it may need to decide whether to place the employee on leave.
Employees don’t have to use the words “FMLA leave” when they request it, but they must give their employers enough information to reach the reasonable conclusion that the employee has a serious health condition. Simply calling in sick isn’t enough, nor is presenting a vague doctor’s note giving no indication that the underlying condition is serious.
Recent case: Elizabeth de la Rama sued her employer, claiming FMLA violations. She said the employer unfairly designated as unexcused many absences she took after she ran out of sick leave. She said she regularly called in to report illness and sometimes even brought in a doctor’s note stating when she could return to work.
The employer said it had no idea de la Rama had a serious health condition until many months later, when she finally told it she had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and a herniated disk. At that point, the employer approved her for FMLA leave, but refused to retroactively remove the unexcused absences.
The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed de la Rama’s lawsuit. It said the employer was entitled to enough information to legitimately conclude that the employee had a serious health condition. Just calling in isn’t enough. A doctor’s note that says the employee should be off work isn’t good enough either unless the note conveys the seriousness of the condition. (de la Rama v. Illinois Department of Human Services, No. 07-1156, 7th Cir., 2008)