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Don’t interfere with overseas FMLA leave

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

You may have an employee or two with relatives living in foreign lands. While it may not be an issue that comes up often, you should be prepared to handle requests for time off to care for sick relatives overseas.

Don’t try to put unreasonable obstacles in the way.

The best approach is to provisionally approve an FMLA leave request. If the need appears sudden and immediate, ask the employee to provide a medical certification within 15 days. That puts the ball in his court to get a doctor overseas to fill out the form. With email and fax, submitting the form shouldn’t be a monumental problem.

Don’t, however, do what this employer did.

Recent case:  Eddie Conteh worked for a New Jersey assisted-living facility as a food service aide. Conteh contacted HR to inquire about FMLA leave when he learned that his mother, who lived in Sierra Leone, Africa, was very ill. His mother also cared for Conteh’s minor child.

HR told him he needed a medical certification before he left. When he explained that was impossible and time was of the essence, HR told him he could resign and ask for his job back later.

He did, went to Sierra Leone, cared for his mother until she died and returned home. He asked to return to his old job, but was not rehired.

That’s when he sued, alleging interference with the right to take FMLA leave.

The court said the case could go to trial, suggesting that Conteh’s employer should have approved his leave and given him 15 days to get the forms in. (Conteh v. Francis Parker Memorial Home, No. 10-5670, DC NJ, 2011)

Note: The judge also allowed Conteh to personally sue the HR specialist.

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