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Employees who are having work troubles sometimes think they can prevent being fired by asking for FMLA leave. Their ace in the hole if they are fired: They can always sue for retaliation under the FMLA.

That only works if those responsible for the termination decision actually know that the employee has asked for FMLA leave—and that won’t be the case if you insist that all FMLA requests go to a specific person in HR.

Then if an employee tries to connect her discharge with her FMLA request, HR will later be able to pinpoint exactly who knew what and when.

Recent case:
Bridget Wright, a Southwest Airlines customer service representative, requested extended FMLA leave. Coincidentally, she was a vocal opponent of the airline’s inclement-weather attendance policy.

Her FMLA request went directly to HR. She was fired shortly afterward—a decision made by her direct supervisor.

She sued, alleging she had been retaliated against for asking for FMLA leave and for questioning the attendance policy.

But HR had records of her request. The HR rep testified that Wright’s supervisor didn’t know anything about the FMLA leave request when he fired her. Since he didn’t know, he couldn’t have retaliated against her. The court dismissed her other claims, too. (Wright v. Southwest Airlines, No. 08-2093, 4th Cir., 2009)

Final note:
Spell out in your employee handbook exactly how employees must ask for FMLA leave approval. Although a casual request to a supervisor may trigger your FMLA obligations, there is nothing wrong with channeling everything through HR. Just make sure supervisors know to tell employees how to make requests.

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