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Don’t mess with FMLA’s leave restrictions

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Issue: Courts continue to ambush employers' attempts to tighten leave-notification procedures.

Risk: Following a policy that violates federal law.

Action: Route employee-absence calls to one person (possibly you) who can recognize FMLA issues without the employee raising them.

If your policy requires employees to jump through hoops to qualify for Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave, change it now. Courts continue to punish employers for holding employees to stricter FMLA leave-notification procedures than the law requires.

Recent case: Sam Cavin injured his shoulder in a motorcycle accident. His doctors excused him from work for five days, and he called plant security to report his absences. But he failed to follow company policy that required him, within three days, to report absences of more than one day to the Leave Coordination Office. As a result, the organization refused to approve those absences as FMLA-qualifying leave.

When Cavin's pain forced him to miss additional days, he was fired for violating the leave policy. A federal appeals court said the firm violated FMLA by requiring internal notice requirements that are stricter than those in FMLA regulations. Specifically, the company required him to contact two different offices to report his leave, while FMLA rules say only that employees must provide notice "to the employer." (Cavin v. Honda of America Manufacturing Inc., No. 02-3357, 6th Cir., 2003)

Key point: FMLA says employees must give their employers at least 30 days' notice when leave is foreseeable. When the need isn't foreseeable, they must inform you "as soon as practicable."

Another key point: Employees don't need any magic words to request FMLA leave. They aren't even required to mention "FMLA." The burden is on you to interpret an employee's statements to determine whether an FMLA-qualifying event exists. That's why it's best to route employee-absence calls to one person (possibly you) who can recognize FMLA issues without the employee raising them.

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