Must you offer FMLA for ‘possibility’ of serious illness?

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in Employment Law,FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

BY MINDY CHAPMAN, Esq.

Don’t be so quick to pull out the “request denied” stamp when employees want to use FMLA leave to determine whether they have a qualifying “serious condition.” As a new court ruling shows, if an employee simply thinks she has a serious condition, she may take FMLA leave to have it checked out.

Case in Point:
Melody Baucom, an optical assistant at a North Carolina eye center, requested FMLA leave to attend a doctor’s appointment for medical tests to look into mysterious growths on her cervix.

The company denied the request, saying Baucom wasn’t entitled to FMLA leave because she didn’t suffer from a qualifying “serious health condition.” The cited reason: Baucom had not been previously incapacitated or sick for at least three consecutive calendar days, as FMLA rules require.

Baucom was told she could only take personal time off (PTO) for her appointments. But since she had no PTO days left, she was told she’d be fired if she attended the appointment. Baucom kept her appointment. The company kept its word. She was fired.

Baucom sued, saying she was entitled to use FMLA time for testing. The company argued that Baucom wasn’t eligible because her condition didn’t rise to the serious level (i.e., three consecutive calendar days of incapacity).

Result: The court sided with Baucom, saying a doctor’s visit to obtain test results to determine whether a serious health condition exists can be covered by the FMLA. (Baucom v. Cabarrus Eye Center, 12/10/08)

Lesson learned

Don’t be so fast to fire. There’s always time to terminate an employee, but only do so after a thorough review. Strongly consider legal consultation if there’s a potential medical issue.

Remember, employers that pull the termination trigger quickly on employees with medical issues will not get sympathy from juries with access to the corporate wallet.

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