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Set clear, consistent response to employees’ ‘I’m sick’ calls

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Nothing will land you in FMLA trouble faster than ignoring an employee’s request for leave. You’d never do that, you say. But what about an untrained supervisor?

Make sure all managers and supervisors know how to handle medical call-ins, so that a potential FMLA request doesn’t get lost. Also, train switchboard operators on where to route such calls. Then, create a tracking system that documents each call, response and final leave decision.

All of this is vital because FMLA rules say employers are required to let their workers know about the FMLA and how to go about requesting FMLA leave for a serious health condition.

Ignoring a leave request could amount to “interference” with the employee’s right to take FMLA leave.

Recent case: Richard Lytle, a nursing assistant at an Ohio retirement home, hurt his knee during a karate lesson. His doctor told him to take it easy and scheduled a surgery.

Lytle went to work, but when he developed severe pain and swelling in that knee, he called his supervisor and asked to take medical leave. His call was referred to several others within the company. But no one actually provided him with any FMLA information or asked him to get a medical certification from his health care provider.

Lytle took the leave and soon was terminated, supposedly because he failed to show up for work after calling in.

He sued, alleging FMLA interference. The court sent the case to trial, saying employers are required to respond to leave requests, and a jury should decide whether Lytle’s condition was an FMLA-qualifying one. If it was, then the company interfered with his FMLA rights. (Lytle v. Magnolia Village Retirement Community, No. 1:08-CV-1359, ND OH, 2009)

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