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How to handle partial-day absences under FMLA

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Sometimes, an employee needs just a few hours of FMLA leave to make a doctor’s appointment or to drive a relative to treatment.

What if the employee wants to take the whole day off? Does the FMLA re­­quire you to extend the extra time? No. If the employee doesn’t return after the appointment as requested, you are free to treat the absence as unauthorized.

Also, remember that employees have a duty to try to schedule FMLA-related medical appointments with the organization’s needs in mind. FMLA regulations say that “if an employee needs leave intermittently or on a reduced leave schedule for planned medical treatment, then the employee must make a reasonable effort to schedule the treatment so as not to disrupt un­­duly the employer’s operations.”

Recent case: John took FMLA leave from his job at an Ohio construction products company to care for his mother after she had surgery. As she recovered, he needed intermittent time off, mainly to take her to doctor’s visits.

The company had a no-fault attendance program that assessed points for unscheduled missed work. John had to call in and talk to a supervisor if he needed to miss work or take FMLA leave. Absences without prior ap­­proval counted against him. (The company was careful not to count any FMLA absences against him.)

John told his boss he was going to miss work to take his mother to a doctor’s appointment. Because his shift was on a tight schedule, the boss told John he needed him to return after the appointment. John ignored those orders and never came back that day. The company fired him after the boss assessed him points for missing half the day.

He sued, alleging FMLA inter­­f­­erence.

The court dismissed the case. It reasoned that because the company subtracted a reasonable amount of time for the doctor’s appointment, it didn’t count legitimate FMLA leave against him. He was fired based on missing hours that didn’t qualify for FMLA leave. (Chappell v. The Bilco Company, No. 11-1243, 8th Cir., 2012)

Final note: The court also noted that it’s fine to require employees who take FMLA leave to call in.


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