Calling in sick doesn’t count as FMLA notice

Employees are supposed to let  employers know when they may need FMLA leave, although they don’t have to specifically mention the law.

However, simply calling in to report being “sick” isn’t good enough. Not every illness is covered and run-of-the-mill sickness isn’t a “serious health condition.”

Recent case: Paul worked for Standard Steel and began experiencing health problems. He saw his doctor several times and always got excuses for the missed work. Then he showed up for work one day with what a supervisor described as “glassy eyes” and “slurred” speech. Paul was directed to the infirmary, where he told the nurse that he was tired after taking a sleeping pill the night before. He was sent home.

Paul never returned to work. Instead, he called in sick, provided a return date and then called in again on the anticipated return date. Each time, he merely said he was sick. He was eventually terminated for unexcused absences. About three weeks later, Paul was transported to the hospital after falling in his bathroom. He was eventually diagnosed with HIV.

Paul sued, alleging that Standard should have given him FMLA paperwork when he first became ill at work and began calling in.

But the court dismissed the lawsuit. It said that nothing Paul had said or done triggered the employer’s FMLA notice obligations. He had merely said he was sick and that he was tired because he hadn’t slept despite taking a sleeping pill. That wasn’t enough to inform his employer he might have a serious health condition and therefore might be eligible for FMLA leave. (Goss v. Standard Steel, No. 1:13-CV-0607, MD PA, 2014)