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Cut slack on notification requirement when emergency clearly signals FMLA need

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

When it comes to FMLA leave, many employers have internal procedures that are somewhat stricter than those specified in the FMLA. For example, they may require employees to report any absences to an outside FMLA administrator within a few days of taking leave in order to evaluate whether the time is eligible for FMLA leave.

That doesn’t mean, however, that employers shouldn’t be flexible under emergency circumstances. Holding an employee to an impossible requirement won’t fly with courts.

Recent case: Shauna Saenz, who worked for the Harlingen Medical Center, had been approved for intermittent FMLA leave for a seizure condition. She was required to report any absences attributable to the condition to an outside administrator within two days of missing work. She did this on several occasions.

Then Saenz’s mother called the center and said she had found her daughter disoriented and hallucinating. A supervisor suggested she take Saenz to the emergency room, and the boss even stopped by the ER to check on her. Saenz was later transferred to another hospital for psychiatric treatment and diagnosis and then released a few days later to her mother’s care.

Then the medical center fired Saenz for failing to call the outside administrator. She sued.

The court said that under the circumstances, holding Saenz to the two-day requirement was unreasonable. Her employer clearly knew she was suffering from a potentially FMLA-qualifying condition. It ordered a trial. (Saenz v. Harlingen Medical Center, No. 09-40887, 5th Cir., 2010)

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