Enforce call-in rules even during FMLA leave

Employers that have call-in procedures for absences can require employees use them when requesting FMLA leave or updating their status. Simply having a doctor fax in medical excuses isn’t enough.

Recent case: Ernestine worked as a housekeeping supervisor and had been warned about her attendance record.

She also knew that company policy required employees to notify their supervisors at least two hours before taking an unscheduled absence, if at all possible.

When Ernestine was in a car accident, she came to work and then sought medical care after her shift. She received a doctor’s excuse to be absent for several days, which she personally delivered to her employer the next morning before going home.

She didn’t return to work or call after that for a full month, but did periodically have her doctor send an excuse.

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Meanwhile, HR sent FMLA leave forms to Ernestine.

She didn’t return them before the 15-day deadline—because she said she never received them. She had apparently moved and hadn’t provided her new address to HR. Nor did Ernestine ever return a phone message her boss left for her.

The employer fired her for violating its call-in procedure and she sued, alleging that she was entitled to FMLA leave.

The court tossed out the case. It reasoned that, as long as the employee is medically capable of following call-in procedures, she is obligated to do so.

She can’t ignore the rules and rely on sporadic and incomplete doctor’s excuses. Nor is it a legitimate excuse to claim the paperwork wasn’t received if she hadn’t bothered to update her address. (Adams v. Scalzo Hospitality, No. 13-154, DC MN, 2014)