Be prepared to grant FMLA leave for diagnosis of serious health condition

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Routine doctors’ appointments such as checkups or annual physicals aren’t considered eligible for FMLA leave, but appointments aimed at diagnosing a condition may be.

Employers that know the employee is seeing a specialist as part of the followup to an auto accident, for example, are on notice that the employee may need to take FMLA leave and must provide the information the employee needs to get that leave.

Recent case:
Jamila Phillips was a new probationary state employee who had transferred from another agency. As such, she retained her eligibility for unpaid FMLA leave, although she may not have had any paid leave available.

A few weeks into the new position, Phillips was involved in a car accident on her way to work. She told her supervisor and came to work as soon as she could. The two discussed the possibility that she might need some time off, and the supervisor gave her FMLA paperwork. When Phillips scheduled a doctor’s appointment because she still experienced pain, her supervisor told her she could use unpaid leave for the appointment, but had to come to work in the morning before the medical visit.

Phillips did not come to work that morning, and instead called to say her car would not start. She got to the medical appointment, and her doctor certified that she had a serious health condition that required physical therapy. He signed her FMLA paperwork.

She then went to work. That afternoon she was terminated. Her supervisor said she was being fired for not coming to work before the appointment. Phillips sued, alleging interference with her right to FMLA leave.

The employer argued two things—first, that it was not on notice that Phillips might need FMLA leave, and second, that it fired her for an unrelated reason.

The court disagreed on the first count. It said the employer clearly knew Phillips might need FMLA leave, and the medical appointment that clarified the need for leave was itself part of that FMLA leave. However, because Phillips was fired for missing work before the appointment, the court dismissed her case. (Phillips v. Mathews, et al., No. 08-1082, 8th Cir., 2008)

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