Act fast on FMLA leave requests—Delay triggers a violation

If you don’t train supervisors to immediately forward all FMLA requests to the HR office, you may find your organization on the losing end of an FMLA-interference lawsuit.

An important new court ruling shows it doesn’t matter whether the employee’s FMLA leave request eventually is approved or even if the leave is allowed pending final FMLA approval. It also doesn’t matter whether the supervisor’s intentions were innocent. The processing delay trumps all good intentions.

Advice: Train every manager about the FMLA. Insist that they promptly bring all requests for time off that may possibly be covered by the FMLA to HR’s attention. Remind managers to listen closely—FMLA requests can be oral and don’t need to include the words “FMLA leave.”

Recent case: Tabitha Mueller, a banker with JPMorgan Chase, had a child with diabetes who often needed medical care. Mueller’s boss—who lacked training in the FMLA—frequently commented about the amount of time she took off to care for her son.

When Mueller asked about FMLA leave, her boss didn’t request the paperwork from HR for two months. He did, however, allow her the time off. HR approved the leave but applied it retroactively. After Mueller was fired for an unrelated reason, she sued.


The court ordered a trial based on the two-month delay. The court wrote that “even where an employee’s FMLA leave is eventually approved, an employer’s delay … constitutes a violation.” (Mueller v. JPMorgan Chase Co., No. 1:05-CV560, ND OH, 2007)